Building Character

The Centre of Elgin
Elgin, Ill.

By Barbara Dutton

Creating a building's character can be equally important as designing its physical structure and determining what components will form the whole of it. Such was the case with The Centre of Elgin, a 185,000-square-foot community center that provides much-needed space for recreational and community programming in historic downtown Elgin, Ill.

"The mass of the building in the downtown community emphasizes the city's goal of downtown redevelopment by setting an example through design and building materials used with the Centre," explains City of Elgin General Services Manager David Lawry, P.E. "It was designed with the hope of attracting people to the downtown, and it has accomplished that objective. As an anchor in the downtown redevelopment, the Centre has become a seven-day-per-week focus of public activity within our city center."

Designed by Williams Architects of Carol Stream, Ill., and opened in November 2002, the brick, stone, glass and metal structure was conceived with architectural context in mind.

"Imperative to the project was developing a design that articulates a connection between structure and surrounding community," says Williams Architects Principal Tom Poulos, AIA.

"Devising a way to fit the immense project into the site parameters was essential," adds Frank Parisi, Williams Architects project architect. "Creating a campus by integrating the facility into an area that also features a cultural district, municipal buildings and riverfront development was a key objective, along with creating a design that was compatible with the neighborhood."

Comprehensive and consistent

Also paramount was providing facilities to meet various community space needs.

"The city of Elgin, with a population of over 94,000, did not have a public recreation center until the Centre opened," says Elgin Parks and Recreation Director Monica Meyers. "Prior to its opening, the city's parks and recreation department predominantly utilized public school facilities or city parks when weather would allow. Therefore, the majority of recreational programs were offered only in the summer. The Centre has allowed the department to offer more comprehensive and consistent year-round programming."

There are other benefits as well.

"Additionally, the program-specific rooms such as dance, aerobics, crafts, pottery, preschool, gyms and kitchen have created an environment of quality," she adds. "For example, we now offer dance classes in a room with a dance floor, mirrors and bars. Before the Centre opened, we would offer a dance class in a school gym or classroom."

Beyond dance facilities, the center contains a three-court field house with a track; an auxiliary multiuse gymnasium; teen and senior centers; a preschool wing; a banquet/rental wing; a natatorium that includes a zero-edge leisure pool, a water slide with a splash pool, and an eight-lane competition pool with a spectator area; a 32-foot-tall climbing wall; a 9,000-square-foot fitness center; a café; and a hospital wellness center.

"Multipurpose functionality was also considered in the design to enable the city to modify the use of rooms as program trends change," Meyers says. "For example, an aerobics room was designed to accommodate a variety of program sizes and to allow for specialized equipment such as Spinning."

Part of the design concept for the Centre involved establishing a lobby from which amenities would be visually accessible to members and visitors.

"When you come into the main lobby, you have a clear view to the pool and to the gym," says Meyers, who points out that the building layout provides for multiple views of amenities from other lobby areas. "This is important to marketing the building and programs," she says.

This visual accessibility can pay off.

"If I am attending a program in the gym, I can also view the pool as I walk through the lobby and see people enjoying that amenity," she says. "It is more likely going to entice me to utilize the pool on a future visit than if the aquatic center were tucked away down the end of a hallway never to be seen unless the customer's intention was to visit the pool."

The layout also helps build a sense of community.

"This facility is marked by an openness and spaciousness in design," Poulos says. "The natural light and extensive vistas of the lobby showcase major center activities, offering observers a sense that 'community' is present."

A "regular home"

A shortage of meeting space in the city was also a concern.

"Meeting space has always been available in Elgin, however, very little meeting space was available in downtown Elgin," Lawry says. "Many private and social organizations now make the Centre their regular home for meeting purposes."

Acknowledging a "lack of public and community meeting space," Meyers also indicates that the facility fills a void that existed.

The Centre offers two meeting rooms with audio/visual (A/V) equipment, cable and computer jacks; a program/activity room with four-person square tables; as well as the Heritage Ballroom for larger, formal functions.

"The ballroom has a seating capacity of 300 people, can be divided into two rooms of 150 people, has a built-in bar, is attached to a catering/teaching kitchen, and is equipped with A/V hardware," says Meyers, who adds that, by the fourth quarter of 2003, the city waived $30,000 of building rental fees for not-for-profit groups, city and community functions.

"Part of the city's redevelopment scope is to attract office, retail and residential space to the downtown," Lawry explains. "Meeting space is now available, conveniently located to these new business areas, and provides an amenity to attract businesses to downtown Elgin."

Beyond downtown Elgin—indeed beyond the city's limits—the Centre has made an impression. For example, in 2003 the project was named Illinois Parks and Recreation Association's Facility of the Year and an American Public Works Association (APWA) Public Works Project of the Year.

According to John Heinz, APWA Chicago Metro Chapter National Awards Committee member: "This project has so many positive attributes for the city and all who use it that it epitomizes a well-conceived and constructed project that everyone can enjoy."

For more information
The Centre of Elgin:

Williams Architects:

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