Safe, Strong Systems

Metal building systems for recreation design

By Charles Praeger

etal building systems have long been a standard for the recreation industry, and today's metal buildings offer more options and benefits than ever before. Whether a new facility, renovation or addition, steel can offer a building owner a safe, structurally solid, energy-efficient facility at a reasonable price.

Metal buildings have been popular in the recreation industry for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they are versatile and relatively easy and fast to construct. The recreation industry's unique needs, such as large clearspans and the open spaces for gyms and swimming pools, are metal building specialties.

Some recent facilities showcase the ability of metal building systems to meet the multiple needs of recreation environments. Recently constructed structures include the University of Mississippi's indoor practice facility in Oxford, with 140,000 square feet of space; the Mohawk 4-Ice Center in Hamilton, Ontario, at 200 feet by 240 feet; and the Choo-Choo Diving and Aquatic Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

While the ability to meet the space and structural needs of a recreation building is an important component, metal also provides more versatility than ever before. In addition to providing large, column-free indoor and covered areas, metal building systems are engineered to expand when more space is needed. And they don't have to be simple metal boxes. In fact, beautiful, award-winning structures with a variety of shapes and facades meet aesthetic goals and help build brand identity.

The Berkshire South Regional Community Center and Recreation Complex in Great Barrington, Mass., is a good example of how metal buildings can be creatively designed. In this case, three buildings are connected. The complex has a simple yet elegant look that fits in well with the Berkshire Mountains backdrop.

The Antelope Valley Fairground in Lincoln Valley, Calif., has four major buildings, the largest of which is a 30,000-square-foot metal building. These buildings also provide a distinctive and attractive appearance.

Versatility is also a consideration when looking at the materials and exterior appearance that metal buildings offer. Metal building systems can include almost any type of material as part of the structure. The building does not have to be all steel. Indeed, a metal building can have a steel frame, walls, roof or any combination of these. Often, metal buildings have one or more of their exterior walls made up of a contrasting material. This can be brick, glass, wood, precast wall systems or even concrete tilt walls.

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is another example of the versatility of materials and appearance a metal building can provide. It has a steel frame and roof, while the exterior is a combination of metal panels and masonry, giving the building a distinctive look.

The Mohawk 4-Ice Center in Ontario uses a number of different materials on its exterior. There are metal wall panels over the steel frame, and the walls feature masonry and decorative metal. In each case, the owner can benefit from the cost-effectiveness and energy efficiency of metal building systems and also achieve design objectives.

Another metal building facility, the Benedictine School Natatorium in Ridgely, Md., has a metal roof and walls made out of both metal and brick. Because of the obvious need for clearspans, natatoriums are often composed of metal building systems. This particular one combines the benefits of metal buildings with a distinct exterior look, showing off how to combine alternate materials with metal.

A commercial facility, the Choo Choo Dive and Aquatic Center also has a masonry exterior.

In addition to the different types of material available for use with metal buildings, the roof and walls can be made to look quite distinctive. The Rose Lane Aquatic Center, in Glendale, Ariz., uses curved and pitched metal roofing panels to create an appearance like waves. The TransAlta Tri Leisure Center in Spruce Grove, Alberta, has multi-colored metal panels that help provide a unique visual context. This facility, in a place of long winters, has a significant number of windows to let the sunlight in. The ability to install windows just about anywhere is another benefit with metal building systems.

Cost has always been a reason to use metal building systems. Life-cycle costs are quite low, in large part because they are relatively maintenance-free, durable and long-lasting. The buildings are also constructed more quickly than traditional construction, which allows owners faster occupancy and quicker revenue production.

Metal roofs are also particularly cost-effective. A typical metal roof has a life cycle of over 35 years, compared to 15 to 20 years for many other roof types.

Cool metal roofing is a family of sustainable, energy-efficient roofing products comprised of unpainted metallic-coated steel or pre-painted coatings that help keep heating costs down. Highly reflective pre-painted cool metal roofs contain high IR-reflective pigments that reflect the sun's rays away from the building, instead of allowing them to be absorbed into the building. These painted coating systems come in many colors to accommodate design parameters and still get all the benefits of energy-efficient roofing.

Proper insulation can also reap energy-cost reductions. By increasing the R value of insulation in both metal walls and roofs, an owner can better manage energy consumption. R value is a measurement of thermal resistance and gauges the effectiveness of a building material to resist heat flow.

Metal is, of course, 100 percent recyclable, and for those looking for renewable material, metal is a sustainable choice. A building can be constructed with recycled metal, and the metal components are fully recyclable when they've reached the end of their useful life. For those looking for LEED points through the U.S. Green Building Council rating system, steel's recycled content and the ability to insulate and use cool metal roofs can all earn points.

When considering any kind of construction for a recreational facility, be it a new building, an addition or a renovation, metal is often the option of choice. Aesthetically and economically, the versatile metal building components provide a strong and safe building system for recreation facilities.


Charles Praeger is the assistant general manager of the Metal Building Manufacturers Association and the chairman of the Cool Metal Roofing Coalition. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, MBMA serves the metal building systems manufacturers and associate member suppliers. MBMA provides engineering leadership through research programs used to improve the performance, efficiency and quality of metal building systems. For more information, visit

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