Mutli-Use and Multiple Users

Faciltiy Models that Work for the Masses

By Mitch Martin

Within the colonnades of the Palaestra, one of the buildings of the Ancient Olympiad in Greece, the Olympic athletes practiced in a courtyard used not just for wrestling but boxing and jumping as well. Surrounding the open area were rooms for bathing, oiling and even benches historians believe were used for lectures.

ART COURTESY OF ROSSER INTERNATIONAL, INC.  
Rendering of the Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center Expansion in Duluth, Ga.

Likewise, the ever practical Romans didn't just use the Coliseum solely for gladiatorial matches. It was also used for wild animal hunts and public executions. The Amphitheatrum Flavium, as the Coliseum was called, also could be flooded for mock naval engagements.

In many ways, recreational facilities have been multi-use as long as they have existed. However, as the modern public's appetite for recreation, entertainment and education increases, recreational organizations are stretching the boundaries of "multi-use" in innovative ways.

Once largely confined to different recreational pursuits, multi-use facilities over the last decade increasingly have branched out to provide space for entertainment, banquets, food service, corporate hosting, social programs and even military purposes.

Multi-use facilities are proliferating for several reasons. They have several advantages over single-use facilities. Perhaps the biggest is that a multi-use facility both widens and diversifies revenue for its respective organization, be it public or private.

Similarly, multi-use facilities broaden the constituency for a new facility or increase political and social backing for an existing facility. These buildings also can increase staff efficiency, as they give added outlets for staff member's energy, keeping them busier and more engaged.

Multi-use facilities such as community centers also can serve as the social glue in suburban environments, says Ronald W. Ankeny, principal-in-charge of Ankeny Kell Architects in St. Paul, Minn.

"To an extent they can replace the traditional downtown meeting points that don't always exist in suburbia," Ankeny says. "And the more diverse the activities that are offered, the more types of people you can draw together and have them interact with each other again."

There are, of course, problems and challenges associated with multi-use facilities. Poorly run or designed "multis" can be expensive to run, and constant room changeovers can drain staff and financial resources. Further, multi-use facilities can dilute programming focus if a facility pulls staff away from their core missions.

Nonetheless, multis remain a predominant facility configuration for the near future. And in that near future, the uses that facility managers pour into their multi-use buildings will continue to evolve and grow.

The community center

If multi-use recreation got its start in the ancient world, perhaps its modern apotheosis is the community center. The jack-of-all-trades for the places they serve, community centers almost by definition are multi-use.

The need to provide everything within a single building, or set of buildings, is no where greater than in small communities.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOND + WOLFE ARCHITECTS  
At the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, an Air Force hangar was converted into a rec and wellness center.

For example, the City of Monticello, Minn., has a population of 7,868 according to the 2002 U.S. Census. Yet its decidedly multi-use Community Center supports a fitness area, childcare, meeting rooms, birthday parties, a banquet hall, a pool and water slide, climbing wall, teen center, and an indoor track. An adjacent bike and skate park is scheduled to open this summer. City hall also takes up part of the facility.

If that weren't enough, the Monticello Community Center also serves as a training center for the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard. Monticello is one of four Minnesota communities that have combined community centers with National Guard armories.

One weekend a month, the National Guard takes over the 2-year-old facility. In exchange, state and federal defense funds paid for approximately a tenth of the $10.5 million facility.

"The important thing was the idea of needing an armory helped jump-start the idea of having a community center," says Community Center Director Kitty Baltos.

Baltos says there is little programming conflict, except perhaps in that one weekend in winter months when the guard is drilling on the same floor prized by hoopsters.

"My basketball guys do miss the court time in the winter through about March," Baltos says. "Other than that we don't really miss the space."

Ankeny, who's firm designed the Monticello facility, says he used a synthetic poured surface for the athletic floors in the facility, to accommodate athletics as well as military drills and ceremonies.

"Because you don't have college competition basketball going on, you can have a surface that accommodates both uses," Ankeny says.

Baltos says her operation is pretty diversified even without the military. She says two keys to a smooth running operation are a handy maintenance staff and a full-time event coordinator.

"Probably 40 percent of what my maintenance staff does is just turning rooms around," she says.

Still, the community center has been able to meet every community expectation except one. The center tried to accommodate Saturday night weddings and a Sunday morning church group, but found it was simply beyond the ability of the staff.

"It would have meant hiring a Saturday midnight person, and we just found we couldn't do it," Baltos says.

She says the community demand is already outgrowing the space in the relatively new building. Ankeny says this is a common problem for cash-conscious local governments. He says he tries to design facilities that are extremely flexible, but space issues often occur.

"Community center are particularly prone to heavy use, and I really try to recommend a community fully explores the needs it will have," Ankeny says. "It's a lot easier to build it now than come back and add on. But sometimes it's very difficult to know exactly how successful you are going to be."

The military base

Even as the military is reaching out to the public with some multi-use projects, it is also entering into creative recreational projects on its own ground.

A particularly interesting project is the $4 million renovation of a huge WWII-era aircraft hangar that was already converted into a recreation and wellness center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Wright Patterson, which is located in southwest Ohio, is a sprawling military reservation serving as a center of Air Force logistics, procurement, development and research, among many missions.

COMPUTER-GENERATED AXONOMETRIC COURTESY OF  
BOND + WOLFE ARCHITECTS  
Design for the Wright Patterson Air Force Base rec and wellness center.

The unique population of the air base meant the transformation of the massive hangar needed to be tailored to the unique demographic.

The project, which was completed last year, was carried out by the design team of St. Louis, Mo.-based Bond + Wolfe Architects and Edge & Tinney Architects in Dayton, Ohio.

One section of the facility was an advanced health center, known by the acronym HAWC (Health and Wellness Center). It includes a kitchen area for nutrition class, medical facilities, a dipping center for advanced weighing, and an alpha room that provides profound relaxation. (Alpha rooms provide a deep level of relaxation and are so named because they can produce alpha frequency brain waves in participants.)

"The Air Force is proving very advanced health training in the HAWC facility," Wolfe says.

Much of the rest of the facility was made up of traditional recreational areas: fitness, basketball courts, weight training and so on.

The military aspect of the 70,000-square-foot facility required a unique design consideration: security. The facility used a separated hallway running along the facility to move all people from different access points through a single check-in desk.

"The size of the facility allowed a simple answer to a serious problem," says principal architect Matthew Wolfe.

The new design also transformed little-used racquetball courts into a Spinning class area.

"Because of the height of the racquetball courts, they are very hard to convert to new uses," Wolfe says. Spinning seemed to be a good fit.

The Y

The Young Men's Christian Association has long been known for recreational innovation. Both basketball and volleyball were invented at Ys.

Today's YMCAs are combining recreation and social outreach in interesting new ways. A few YMCAs, both literally and figuratively, are being joined at the hip with schools and corporations.

Julius Lee, executive director of the Centennial Place Branch YMCA in Atlanta, runs a one such innovative center. The Centennial Place Branch was built as part of one of the largest public housing renovations in the country.

Residents of the crime-ridden Techwood-Clark Howell Homes district were relocated just before the 1996 Summer Olympics. Much of the housing project was torn down. It was replaced by a mix-income, mixed-used redevelopment, including the YMCA.

The YMCA is attached to a public elementary school, Centennial Place Elementary School. The school uses the YMCA gym, including a climbing wall, for physical education classes.

"It's really a beautiful thing to see all those elementary kids climbing up and down that climbing wall," Lee says.

Multiple Points

George Bushey, a project engineer with Rosser International, Inc., offers a few tips for making a multi-use facility changeover friendly and lower maintenance.

Storage. Storage. Storage. Every person interviewed for this story says voluminous storage is a key to an easier to run multi-use facility. For example, the Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center in Duluth, Ga., will have storage room for a full-scale band shell.

Separation. Bushey says it is important to have separate entrances and work areas for food service and the various event set-up crews.

"You want everyone to be able to do their job without getting in the way of someone else doing their job," he says.

Finish level. Bushey says the Gwinnett facility will have better trim and appointments than many other arenas, including near wall-to-wall carpeting. The theory is that higher cost finish will lead attendees to treat a facility better, leading to less maintenance.

"I'm a big fan of carpeting," he says. "There's something about concrete floors—that basketball arena look that makes people treat a place differently."

P.E. is just the beginning, however, of the symbiotic relationship between the school and the Y. The school provides an afterschool program for the elementary students, including the use of students from the nearby Georgia Tech campus who help with homework.

The Centennial Y facility includes a video production lab where the young, disadvantaged students can learn how to produce their own videos.

Almost all the $4.1 million facility, with a design that won an award from the American Institute of Architects, was paid for by corporate sponsors. One key to the design is an openness and airiness that corresponds to the open programming of the Centennial Y.

The Y is an amazing, multi-layered sandwich of sponsorships and partnerships between Georgia Tech, the local school district, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, numerous corporations, and the Y. Lee says the Y is the center of approximately 15 distinct outreach programs.

"I am a very, very busy person," he says.

The secret to running such a multi-dimensional program is openness at the board level. All the major corporate sponsors, and the other partners, have true input on the local board.

"If you don't have real, substantive involvement of by the people on board, new programs can become a threat, a turf issue," Lee says. "We want to stay focused on improving the lives of kids."

The 25,000-square-foot Centennial Place Branch served as a model for the 65,000-square-foot East Lake YMCA, which is also connected to a local public school in Atlanta. The YMCA considers the $11.3 million East Lake Y to be a state-of-the-art health and wellness facility.

The entertainer

Multi-use facilities are also providing a venue for the merging of recreational and entertainment event buildings.

A good example is the Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center in Duluth, Ga., designed by Rosser International, Inc. The facility, now under construction and projected for a spring 2003 completion, has been designed with versatility and economy in mind.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROSSER INTERNATIONAL, INC.  
The Gwinnett Civic & Cultural Center Expansion in Duluth, Ga.

The center was not conceived for recreational uses in the beginning, however, that changed when the area became the location of a new minor-league hockey team.

When completed, the Gwinnett Center will be suitable for ice hockey, theatre, concerts, large corporate meetings and trade shows.

Flexibility will be achieved in large measure by two design considerations: seating shape, and flexible curtains and riggings.

One end of the seating fans out, while another remains narrower. The facility will be able to hold events with seating as large as 36,000 or as small as 3,000.

The facility's roof structure is designed so curtains and other equipment is hung directly from the roof structure, for better design and construction savings (because less work and material is needed when roof structure and riggings are combined in the design).

A large moveable curtain system will slide up and down the arena, so the arena space can be tailored to the event.

"You don't want to have a situation where the audience is aware they're going to a concert that feels like a basketball arena," says Rosser's project architect George Bushey. "You don't want to have an arena that's too big for the act."

To that end, the Gwinnett Center won't have a center hung scoreboard, which also makes roof-hung riggings more practical. Instead, the facility will have scoreboard elements along the fascia of the seat stands and video boards at each end.

"It's still a level that would be comfortable for minor-league hockey or [NBA] developmental league basketball," Bushey says.

Designed flexibility really is key when it comes to multis, for the vast array of uses and users.



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