Feature Article - May 2022
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Inclusivity & Equity

Hallmarks in the Design of New Recreation & Wellness Centers

By Rick Dandes

The esports room designed by Schenck and his colleagues has LED lighting and there are about 24 stations with PCs and a lounge area, where kids can play X-Box games or Nintendo. "Interestingly enough, we have found esports is a way to draw in not only youths but also adults. Let us be honest," Schenck continued, "a lot of adults are interested in gaming. Bringing them in for esports and then having a competition with surrounding communities is a way to attract new people."

These e-spaces can also be used in conjunction with local high school and grade school students. Esports is extremely popular in high school and even at the elementary school level. "In some cases, schools can come into these spaces and rent them," Schenck said.

The interest in esports is not slowing down. Rather the opposite, said Armstrong. "We are seeing esports as a rising trend within community recreation. It has been rising faster within collegiate recreation, but now it is spreading out to the community side, embracing and making it age-appropriate programming. Different communities look at esports differently. We are moving past anyone perceiving esports as a fad."

One of the communities that has embraced esports is Maricopa, Ariz., at the Maricopa Community Center, where they have created a robust esports community, Armstrong said.

Using nearby outdoor spaces is another effective use of property owned by a municipality and is a trend that McDonald has observed. Recreation centers, where possible, he said, can use their immediate outside surroundings in creative ways. "We are seeing a lot of investment in outdoor activities, also trails and riverfront parks, making activities more active and less passive. That is a real trend that has come out of the pandemic, the ability to go outside and enjoy nature."

Partnership Potential

Designers also see communities inviting healthcare into their recreation and wellness facilities, which is also a way to generate revenue. Partnerships with healthcare providers such as hospitals, health clinics and rehabilitation facilities, are becoming more common. A center might be home to a small clinic for checkups and vaccinations, for example.

Other common partnerships might include nonprofit facilities like YMCAs, or could involve pairing recreational offerings with sports tourism.

For example, the Bridge Sports Complex in Bridgeport, W.Va., has developed a themed facility, partnering with a sports management group. The city built a large-scaled facility of 156,000 square feet that is part of a sports tourism destination, but is also being operated as a community recreation space. What is unique here is that it is not just dedicated to one function or the other. The city is leveraging the partnership to create a more diverse center that can meet all those goals.

"Why not partner with a local college?" asked Schenck. That's exactly what the Wentzville Recreation Center did, working with Lindenwood University. They designed into the floor plan a series of five classrooms within the community center. In the evening, those rooms are used for adult education, another source of revenue. As part of the overall agreement, the community center gets to use those rooms during the day, along with general meeting spaces and multipurpose spaces. These rooms are set apart from the equipment area or the community focus side of the building. There is a large weight and fitness space for membership and general population usage.

"Everybody wants weight fitness and people really can't get enough of that in these community centers," Schenck said.

Space in Demand

Are community recreation and wellness centers trending toward new, ground-up buildings or renovation of existing spaces? Both, according to the designers we spoke with.

"Most of our work is for ground-up space, said Schenck.

Inside those spaces, "We look to have anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet (about the area of a basketball court) of a fitness area in our buildings," he added. "We try to get adequate gymnasium space as well, enough for two basketball courts. And along with that, some sort of a jogging track around the space. Those are the hottest in demand for us."

Schenck added that the facility needs to have enough space to accommodate foodservice options. "Rather than your traditional concession stand, our clients tend to want an almost Starbucks-like café style food service option for concessions."

McDonald said he is seeing a real demand for renovation-type work. "Back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, there were a lot of new recreation centers funded and constructed. Now those facilities are 20 to- 25 years old, and they are getting into a phase of their useful life where they need to be refurbished."

One specific example McDonald offered is in the Denver metro area, in Thornton, Colo.: the Margaret C. Carpenter Recreation Center. "We recently renovated the indoor aquatics amenity at the center," he said. "We demolished all the existing pools and then reimagined the different shapes of the pools, the different floor slopes, depths and different amenities. And then some structural mechanical issues were dealt with. The center had gone beyond its useful life. So, rather than build a new center, they chose to invest in their existing facility. That will be a great amenity for years to come."