Grab Your Partner, Build Your Community

Gypsum Recreation Center in Gypsum, Colo.

By Emily Tipping

It's not often that a town of just 5,000 people gets a new, state-of-the-art recreation center, but through unique partnerships with the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District (WECMRD), local tradesmen and artists, and other community stakeholders, the town of Gypsum, Colo., got just that.

The $12.2 million, 57,000-square-foot Gypsum Recreation Center opened its doors to the public in December 2006. It sits on a campus that centers around the town hall and also includes the public library, a sports complex and the new Lundgren Barn amphitheater.

"The size of the facility with that number of residents was a surprise—just that they could afford it," said Craig Bouck, a principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture and the lead designer on the project.

The town was able to afford the center by partnering with WECMRD and by passing a sales tax increase. The partnership has paid off, and the new recreation center is available for the entire district—not just the 5,000 citizens of Gypsum, but about 10,000 people in Eagle County, Bouck said.

"It was the rec district's goal to have 2,500 members by the end of 2007," said Jeff Schroll, Gypsum town manager. "They are currently at 2,455, and it's only been open for three months. People are absolutely loving it."

The town of Gypsum does not have its own recreation department, but WECMRD serves the valley where Gypsum is located, a little less than 40 miles west of Vail. Gypsum approached the recreation district with its proposal that the town would build and own the center, and the district would run it. The district contributed a portion of the money to build the center.

"We decided not to try to reinvent this wheel," Schroll said. "They expressed an interest in letting them run it if we funded it, and they had passed a $9 million capital improvement fund and were willing to split that up between the three largest parts of the district. So they had $3 million to put in the kitty."

With additional money contributed by the Eagle County government and a state grant, Gypsum was left responsible for a little more than $8 million of the facility's cost.

"We passed a 1-cent sales tax initiative—overwhelmingly—and that's what's being used to pay back our bonds for the money we borrowed," Schroll said. "It's worked out really well."

Now that the center is complete, WECMRD has taken responsibility for running the facility, and shares the operational costs with the town—a departure from the typical scenario in which the town would assume all of the responsibility for operating the recreation center. Schroll said that the goal now is to reduce operating costs, so that first WECMRD and then the town itself can save some money.

Building the Gypsum Recreation Center presented several unique challenges, not the least of which is the "outrageous" costs for mountain construction, Schroll said.

Bouck added that the town's leaders had high expectations after touring recreation centers throughout the area. In addition, he said, the town did not want to lose its existing open space.

"The site is pretty small, and it was going to be part of the campus that the town was building over the years," Bouck said. "Most importantly, they had a big open green, and that's where they have the Gypsum Daze, a country music festival where the whole town gets together—a community-building event. So when we proposed that we were going to put this big building on their green, they were concerned to lose the open space."

Bouck and his team solved the problem by designing the building to be recessed into the hillside, preserving the green space. As part of the project, an old barn was also moved and became a renovated amphitheater.

The Gypsum Recreation Center serves community members of all ages and abilities with a multi-use pool, a multipurpose gymnasium, an aerobics room, a dedicated gymnastics area and a climbing wall, among other features. Despite its large size, the facility is designed to blend into its environment.

"The exterior was meant to look like it had been there a long time, so it was designed like a barn, and the biggest volumes—the gym and the natatorium—are built with a material that is intended to rust, so it blends in with the hillside," Bouck said.

He added that ultimately, the building has met the initial high expectations of the town's leaders, while staying within a reasonable budget. "They deferred a lap pool to another phase and included a leisure pool in this part," he said. "They did the multipurpose gymnasium. Some of the local schools have gyms with maple floors, so there was no need to duplicate what the local schools already have."

The gymnastics area was added halfway through the project, when a local provider who was "struggling to make ends meet" sold his equipment to the town, Bouck said.

"Halfway through the design, they gave us this list of gymnastics equipment and said let's take half of that multipurpose gymnasium and make it for gymnastics," Bouck said. "The WECMRD didn't have any experience running a gymnastics program either, so they went and got some of the people from the private side and brought them into the program."

With a couple of the town's leaders involved in climbing, an indoor climbing wall was a top desire for the facility. They ended up hiring Boulder-based Monolithic to design a wall that challenges climbers of all abilities.

"There's a few of us that are climbers, and Monolithic put a great wall together," Schroll said. "It's being run by a nonprofit. They encourage people to get certified. They run the safety components and teach climbing classes."

Nearly 700 people have signed liability forms to climb on the wall, and the first climbing competition was held recently.

"Monolithic came up and climbed a lot of the rocks around Gypsum, and learned the routes and kinds of rock and built the climbing wall in the center to mimic the rocks around Gypsum," Bouck explained. "They're very proud of it. There are some extreme routes on it that some of the master climbers can't do, as well as some routes for beginners and a bouldering wall with overhangs."

This approach reigns throughout the facility, which is built for patrons of all abilities and ages.

"In terms of the fitness areas, they want to make sure that they're reaching out to all ages—seniors as well as more mainstay kinds of fitness, and programs for kids, too," Bouck said. "There's not a lot for kids to do in the mountain towns, so they made an effort to put in a game room, an indoor playground and a baby-sitting room."

Getting everyone involved in the activities featured at the center makes it a great location for building community. There is a living room area with a café and coffee bar, and a lounge area with a large fireplace, leather chairs, games and a television.

"They wanted the center to be about community building," Bouck said, "They wanted it to be as much about passive recreation as active recreation. So the whole center is built around a big living room. People can sit at kind of a bar setting in a community room and have a place to be with other people—a see-and-be-seen place. They put a large fireplace in the center space, and then a lounge area doubles as a senior activity area. From there you can see the climbing wall and the baby-sitting area. It all pinwheels from that central living room space."

Schroll, who looks out his office window at the recreation center, also emphasized the facility's ability to bring the community together.

"You see people you don't normally see. It's the major social opportunity outside of school functions," he explained. "I know a lot of moms are walking together. Husbands and wives are lifting together, while their kids play in the pool. It's really just what the doctor ordered for building a healthy community."


Gypsum Recreation Center:

Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture:

© Copyright 2022 Recreation Management. All rights reserved.