Recreation Center

Challenges Met
Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield, Ill.

By Beth Bales

Besides the history within the walls, there are also future opportunities galore.

The facility once used as a practice center for the championship Chicago Bulls basketball team is now the Deerfield Park District's Sachs Recreation Center, offering a score of new amenities and programming for residents.

The renovated center opened in May 2009 in the northern Chicago suburb. District residents now have the additional gymnasium space and walking facilities, plus a fitness center, all of which had long been desired.

Besides the full-size gym formerly used by the Bulls, Deerfield built two new, smaller, middle-school-sized gyms. The updated facility also includes an indoor pool, indoor tennis and racquetball courts, childcare center, game room, 4,575-square-foot fitness area, four-lane indoor track, cafe, rental space for private parties, programming space, steam rooms, sauna and whirlpools.

Wheaton, Ill.-based PHN Architects, which specializes in the design of recreational facilities, planned and managed the renovation of and addition to the center.

The district has long wanted additional gymnasium space, plus a fitness center and more opportunities for walkers. The new center provides all those amenities, as well as additional pool time for its highly ranked swim team.

The center has been a hit, with more than 1,100 members as of January. "We were thinking perhaps 1,000 members for the first year," said Deerfield Park District Director Linda Gryziecki. "We've passed that, in only eight months.

"Plus, we've had a good response to our programming, and a good response for private rentals. We're very happy."

The path to ownership and the remodeled facility was not always smooth. But working through the complications led to a much more polished facility that serves the district's short- and long-term needs, said PHN's Gary Pingel, project manager.

At approximately 100,000 square feet, the former Multiplex is larger than what officials had planned, Gryziecki said. But when the chance to buy the property—dealing with two owners and a building by then more than 25 years old—Deerfield seized the opportunity to provide additional recreational facilities at a reasonable cost.

Before the property became available, Deerfield had envisioned building a facility of approximately 33,000 square feet, with two middle-school-size gyms and multipurpose space. The estimated cost was roughly $10.2 million, including site improvements. "We spent approximately $11 million and got so much more," Gryziecki said.

More, in that the district now can offer a wide range of programs and amenities that it could only have dreamed of before. More, in that there's room to grow.

It's not a perfect situation, Gryziecki acknowledged. For example, the lap pool is neither as long nor as deep as the district would have preferred. "But we got what we got. And we'll do a lot with this."

Indeed, officials are thrilled with what they're offering now, plus possibilities down the road. "The Sachs center provides tremendous opportunities for us for the future," Gryziecki said. "We have a lot of programming options we didn't have before, including those that aren't health- and fitness-related. It's exciting."

In the fall, Deerfield began a before- and after-kindergarten enrichment program, previously unavailable. "The need was there and we'd wanted to offer it before. But we didn't have a facility," Gryziecki said.

Indoor tennis has been an unexpected hit. "We weren't sure about the demand," Gryziecki said. "But we've had more than 200 registrants. The interest is there." The center also is the new home for the North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics, with a team and classes. There's a dedicated spinning room, with no need to store the bikes when not in use. Drop-in classes are popular, as are open gym and open basketball sessions. Pampering is in the plans, with an area spa owner preparing to open a full-service spa within the center.

There were numerous obstacles in renovating the facility. Deerfield officials originally planned simply to clean the facility, bring it up to code and add the two smaller gyms, maintaining existing space usages. But once into the project, the unexpected arose to change the game plan, and the project became substantially more complex.

"When you buy a used building—in this case owned by two different parties—you get a lot of costs you didn't necessarily expect to have. It's just like remodeling your kitchen. One thing leads to another," Gryziecki said.

"The project went from cleaning up the space and making minor changes while working with existing finishes and materials, to a full-blown gut-and-remodel project," agreed PHN's Isela Catania, project coordinator and designer.

Extensive water damage had developed while the building was vacant for more than a year, Catania said. Code issues required more work than anticipated. The servicing fire department had stipulations and demands to be satisfied. And no original blueprints could be found.

"Everything was a challenge," Catania said. "Every day, we would discover various spaces that had been poorly built and that desperately needed to be repaired. We would begin to clean up an area and tried to work with existing finishes to keep costs down. But then, unfortunately, with time we would realize it would be better to gut the space and start from scratch, with new finishes."

In the end, she said, these difficulties worked to the district's advantage. "We did a lot of updating to the finishes and furnishings," Catania said. "It's a more polished facility."

Some challenges became pluses. The black-and-white color scheme of the existing cafe is now a cafeteria with a fun, retro '50s look—and the original flooring.

It's not only the community that's impressed. In January the remodeled center earned an "outstanding facility award" from the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association, earning the highest total points among those entries submitted in that division and category, from throughout the state.

"We're very happy with the community response and input. People are excited and enthusiastic," Gryziecki said. "And we're excited about the opportunities we have now."


Deerfield Park District:

Sachs Recreation Center:

PHN Architects:

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