The School Spirit of Adventure

The OSU Adventure Recreation Center in Columbus, Ohio

By Daniela Bloch

At Ohio State University, a $4 grande non-fat latte is more than just hedonistically expensive coffee. It's strategy.

"We take a Starbucks approach to recreation facilities," explained Bruce Maurer, associate director of the Adventure Recreation Center (ARC), Jesse Owens Recreation Centers and Outdoor Facilities. "There's always one Starbucks and then another one right down the street, you know? We have five different recreational buildings on our campus. This way, as opposed to other universities where students are forced to go to one main center, our students can go to the one closest to them."

Located on west campus, the Adventure Recreation Center and its Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) offer students an alternative athletic experience. Opened in September 2004, the OAC provides 4,000 square feet of state-of-the-art climbing surfaces, a bouldering cave, rental equipment and trip-planning for students.

"We wanted to build a facility the way it did not exist on campus," Maurer said. "We wanted it to be inclusive and diverse and cater to students' recreational sports interests."

Standard amenities in the ARC include 5,000 square feet of fitness space, two indoor turf fields with netting for various sports including soccer and baseball, four hardwood floors for volleyball and basketball, spectator seating, and locker-room facilities.

But even here OSU took classic recreation to a new level.

"We wanted to think outside the box, be on the cutting edge of society in terms of recreation," Maurer said. "With our indoor turf fields with netting and our crumb rubber floors, as far as we know, our facility is the only one of its kind in the country."

Crumb rubber floors, or infill turf floors, are quite common. According to Jimmy Francis, assistant director for the ARC and Outdoor Facilities, they function as standard flooring for fields and are currently replacing the traditional carpet-like turf once used in most recreational facilities.

"What's uncommon," Francis explained, "is having [the infill turf floors] in an indoor center."

The combination of indoor turf fields and floor-to-ceiling netting gives the ARC an edge. As Francis explained, regular facilities use dasher boards in their design.

"We did away with those altogether," he said. "It was the first time the manufacturer had ever done that before, so coming up with the netting system was a bit of a challenge."

Challenging traditional recreational design and utility seems to be the status quo for the ARC.

"We [generally] have a cookie-cutter approach in recreation," Maurer said. "We visit different facilities, like this and that, modify it this or that way to fit our plans. And then by and large, most facilities are identical to each other in open space and design. These buildings appeal to the same group of people. But today's students are much more diverse in their recreational sports and interests."

That helps explain the building's design. The pre-engineered structure creates an open facility that allows great flexibility in field use for various sports and also eliminates the issue of wayfinding.

According to Maurer, the open space of the facility allows two people to easily supervise 70,000 square feet.

The facility also increases student safety.

"Here, you're falling on a 2-inch cushion of crumb rubber, not hardwood," Maurer said. "Female students have also told us that the netting and open space of the facility prevent hidden corners where abuse could take place."

Location also adds to the center's appeal. The 43-acre Fred Beekman Park, named after one of the university's former directors and located just across the street from the ARC, provides lakes and fields by the facility. There are also soccer fields and a cricket pitch nearby. Furthermore, the adjacency to Woody Hayes Drive, a main campus cross street, makes the ARC more accessible to vehicles and more visible to passers-by.

With a Campus Area Bus Service (CABS) stop on its doorstep and a parking lot right next door, the center was developed at a relatively low cost. At $85.61 per square foot, the 87,000-square-foot structure's total cost was $7.5 million, relatively inexpensive for a new recreation center.

"RPAC (Recreation & Physical Activity Center), the central facility on campus, has over 600,000 square feet of space, but at a cost of $170 per square foot," Maurer said. "It has the brick and mortar, tile floor, and glass and windows that add to cost."

Frugality in construction did, however, limit options for the center.

"If we had had a few more dollars, we would have made the facility wider to increase the turf fields and basketball courts, and also make the showers and locker rooms bigger," Maurer said. "We could have made the high-ropes, low-ropes course part of this project as opposed to trying to gather money for building it now. A couple thousand extra square feet for fitness space would have been good too since we are a little scrunched."

But all in all, students and the design team alike are pleased with the results.

"Originally everyone here was a little concerned about student response," said Francis, attributing the concern to the out-there location of the facility. "But participation is higher than anyone ever expected. Everyone's enjoying the new style of recreation."

One of the facility's greatest qualities is its versatility, according to Francis.

"Students can lift weights, climb the climbing wall, go to the OAC and rent a canoe, and then plan a trip in the resource center," he said.

Maurer shared another secret to the center's success: "It's important to get the students involved. Current undergrads played a large role in design and researching what we needed. They chose colors, reviewed drawings; they were at every architect meeting. About half a dozen students took a lot of time and ownership with this project."

Future plans for the center include the high-ropes, low-ropes course leadership program, a skatepark and a golf course. But for the time being, the initial goals for the center have been accomplished.

"We wanted a low-cost facility, in terms of cost per square feet, and also a high-efficiency building in terms of activity space," Maurer said.

Mission accomplished.


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