Good Giving

Hamilton Indoor Recreation Center
Moscow, Idaho

By Sutton R. Stokes

It's a budgeting problem more cities probably wish they had: how best to spend the approximately $10 million donated to the city by a recreation-minded benefactor looking to provide indoor and outdoor facilities for residents' play and exercise. The city of Moscow, Idaho, is lucky enough to have this problem and is proceeding as most small towns with limited tax bases would: carefully and prudently, making every dollar stretch.

Take the latest addition to Moscow's recreation facility portfolio, for example. The 21,000-square-foot Hamilton Indoor Recreation Center, which opened in June 2004 and is named for the above-mentioned generous donor, was completed for only $2.78 million. While the building doesn't have a lot of frills, the design team was able to create a comfortable, stylish ambience—indoors and out—that was much more pleasing to clients and community members than the big, raw-boned shoebox some neighbors had feared.

Where the exterior was concerned, the architectural language already was set by the existing pool facility, explains Melissa McFadgen, project architect and designer. As well, residents of the surrounding neighborhood of detached, single-family homes were concerned that their new neighbor was going to overwhelm them. According to Moscow Recreation Supervisor Greg Morrison, who oversees the facility, McFadgen and her team—from the Spokane-based Northwest Architectural Company—handled these potential obstacles well.

"The architecture is wonderful," Morrison says. "[The designers] wanted it to blend in with the surrounding houses, so it isn't a big, square building with a flat roof. They made it more like the surrounding neighborhood, with warm tones, very modern, very inviting."

The interior of the facility is equally appealing.

"We tried to get as much volume as we could in each space, which really helps to make it appear larger and more pleasant," McFadgen says. Enough indirect natural light reaches every public space in the building that, on a sunny day, it isn't even necessary to turn on the lights in some areas, a cost-saving plus for the city.

"Even in the locker rooms there is natural light," McFadgen points out, explaining that this feature combines well with the extensive use of wood accents to give the inside of the building a friendly, welcoming feel as well.

Another feature that tends to win people over is the no-fee admission, though of course there is a rental fee for those wishing to reserve the facility for private parties or other functions.

"Every day we get people who come in here who are hearing about the place for the first time," Morrison says. "And every time we tell them it costs nothing to use the facility…their eyes open wide, and they say that's wonderful."

The plan is for the facility to remain no-fee and to support itself through private rentals, while remaining open to the public most days as late as 11 p.m. The Hamilton Center is the only city recreation facility that is open after business hours, which Morrison says benefits not only patrons but busy parents who otherwise would not be able to stop by the downtown parks and recreation office early enough to register their children for the various sports leagues the city runs.

Naturally, such a business plan puts significant budgetary constraints on the facility manager, but Morrison says that the new building just isn't that expensive to run. The natural lighting helps reduce electricity costs, as do lighting fixtures that can be switched between one-, two- or three-bulb operation. He also has found that the tall ceilings are no obstacle to cost-conscious heating, cooling and ventilation.

Morrison explains that the multipurpose room has particularly high ceilings, a potential utility-bill nightmare.

"We have found that leaving the ceiling fans on low speed in there is very efficient," he says. "We have not had to play with the heating in that multipurpose room at all."

In addition to a multipurpose room, the facility includes a multi-court gymnasium, a concessions area, locker rooms and administrative offices. As is the case with more and more facilities these days, load-bearing walls and other vital structural elements were placed to allow for easy future expansion, minimizing the impact on parking and other uses.

The facility has proved popular so far, both with exercisers and with children participating in the many varieties of sports leagues available at the center. In June 2004, the center's first month open to the public, Morrison reported 619 users, as compared to this past June's 1,281. He finds he is averaging about 1,200 users per month in the summer, and about 1,900 per month in the winter, not counting league players—and not counting league audiences.

"This city is very community-oriented," says Morrison, explaining that parents, grandparents, and other friends and relatives can all be counted on to support the young players. "My gym is packed [with spectators] when we have the kids playing."

McFadgen says she noticed a similarly positive attitude in Moscow during the design and building phases.

"It was a very lean budget," McFadgen remembers, "but it was really a fun project. There was a lot of hard work by the city to make this successful…It was exciting to be part of something that was so important to the city."

For more information
Hamilton Indoor Recreation Center: 208-883-7084

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