Flexible Facilities

Trends in Multipurpose Facility Design

By Deborah L. Vence

The word "multipurpose" implies versatility and flexibility, making it the ideal type of recreation center for municipalities that desire a single location to appeal to youth, adults and seniors alike.

"We are seeing that … multipurpose centers are starting to make a lot of sense. You can get operational savings. Say, you have a senior center, rec center and aquatic center scattered around town, all independently operated. If they were all in one place, they would be [less expensive] to operate," said Stephen Springs, AIA, Brinkley Sargent Architects, an architectural firm based in Dallas.

For sure, operational savings are a big reason why more multipurpose facilities are being built, a growing trend where pressure is being put on municipalities to have more cost recovery.

With "Older cities, they typically heavily subsidize the recreation programs. And, some cities may not have a recreation center, yet. People are building them for the first time," Springs said. "They don't have that history of heavy subsidizing. [It's about] cost recovery when they talk about building their first center.

"We still see more and more pressure, understanding operation costs, and so once that becomes important, then it starts setting up what your programs should be," he added, "because some programs bring in revenue and some don't. [It's about] figuring out how to align and serve your community needs."

As new multipurpose facilities are created, the design of such spaces, in turn, continues to thrive with design elements centering on more openness and brighter colors.

"There is so much more to choose from with material choices," Springs said. "You don't have to spend as much to get a great tile, same cost per foot. We spend a lot of effort in finding those … but it doesn't have to cost more."

And, when it comes to color, shades that are the most timeless are earth tones and naturals, "But, there are greens and brown and blues, too, [that are earth tones]. With plums, there are a lot of natural colors that blend very well together, that don't date a building. An accent wall can completely change a room entirely," he said, adding that the quality of the lighting is just as important and can make a big difference in a facility.

The following article highlights the trends in multipurpose facility design today, including senior and multigenerational components, and a rundown of some of the latest and greatest multipurpose projects.

Senior, Multigenerational Focus

One of the trends in multipurpose facilities puts the focus on seniors and baby boomers.

Seniors "Having their own entrance [in a multipurpose facility] is the most important thing," Springs said. "They have their own space. They have their own territory."

You "need to be able to go in and out of a space without going to another space and rec center. And, depending on how the fee structure works, it can be a challenge," Springs said. "Architecturally, from a design standpoint, when you are going from one space to another, the signage or look and feel [is important], realizing that you are going into a different space."

Besides that, furniture choice is important, too.

"[It can make] the biggest difference … making sure that it's senior-friendly. Such essentials as lounge space furniture, subtle things where you don't want to have chairs with wheels to accidentally roll away from them," Springs said. And, "It's all about the efficiency … as simple as the firmness of your lounge seating and chairs. For seniors, it has to be easier to get in and out of. It has to be hygienic, but not have that sterile or institutional feel."

The impact of baby boomers is yet another influence on new multipurpose facilities. "We did a senior center that billed itself as America's first baby boomer center. I call it a rec center for grownups. That was a really interesting project," Springs said.

The facility, called The Summit in Central Park, Grand Prairie, Texas, designed for active adults 50 and older, is the first of its kind and dubbed the first "baby boomer center."

The facility accommodates the programming needs of those over age 50, combining activities typical to traditional senior centers with fitness and entertainment—with an indoor leisure pool, spa, walking track, theater and ballrooms located on a lakeside boardwalk as just some of the facility's highlights.

"The center is reconceived, rather, as a facility for two generations, instead of one—for both baby boomers and seniors," he said.

Branch Librairies, Meeting Spaces and More

Branch libraries and meeting spaces are other elements becoming more common and in greater demand, too, for multipurpose centers.

"If you look at what libraries are doing now, they are experiencing the same pressures. They are offering programming that looks and tastes much like recreation … with storytelling and finger painting," Springs said. "We just finished a project that is a community center, which has a branch library as part of it."

The project Brinkley Sargent recently completed is called the Northwest Laredo Community Center in Laredo, Texas. The roughly 47,000-square-foot recreation center provides recreation programming, a branch library, a senior center and community meeting room space. To boot, the center, which will be an anchor for continued development in the area, represents the first phase of a new park in a quickly growing area in northwestern Laredo.

In designing meeting spaces, you need to consider the types of finishes. Also, do they need visible partitions, so you can have smaller meetings? "Those are very popular components. And, again, it's more toward the trend of community centers as opposed to calling them recreation centers," he said.

What's more, multipurpose facilities continue to include multiple aerobics rooms and group exercise rooms for various types of programs.

And, in designing those types of rooms, Springs reiterated that "the subtle things matter." For instance, it can really help a facility on turnover, getting one group out of an aerobics room quickly between classes.

"It's very subtle little things that can matter. With the aerobics rooms, [it can] serve as a … linear room, opening on either end. People can go in one door, grab what they need vs. everyone trying to go out one door. It creates a problem when you are trying to turn over a class," he suggested.

So, "From a design standpoint, make sure that the space is a great welcoming place to go. And, talking about views, if a recreation center feels more like a country club and doesn't have to cost like one, making it a welcoming space, you have to get them in the door," he added. "And, once you do that you can hook them with your programming."

Multipurpose Tournament Facilities

As small to mid-size municipalities seek economic growth, an investment in a multipurpose tournament sports facility attracts out-of-town visitors to stay overnight and patronize the local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and retail shops.

"Multipurpose sports facilities must offer flexible, convertible sports competition spaces for weekend tournament activity in tournament sports such as basketball, volleyball, martial arts, boxing, wrestling, cheer and dance, and gymnastics," said Greg Houston, AIA, LEED AP, partner with the architectural firm Marmon Mok in San Antonio, Texas.

"During the week, the same facility must be economically viable by offering play space for local league play, free play and special events," he said.

In addition, support spaces, such as team rooms, for weekend tournaments convert to weekday meeting space with audio-visual systems. To boot, the same rooms use movable wall systems to open up to larger group exercise classrooms with resilient flooring. For tournaments, team rooms are used for tournament organization space, team meeting space, VIP rooms or scouting rooms, all using audio and video connectivity to ongoing activities in the building.

"Multipurpose rooms must be positioned in the facility to allow easy access to the competition floor as well as visibility to observe activities on the floor," he said. "Basketball goals, volleyball nets and scoreboards are all retractable over the center of the floor to accommodate high vertical activities such as trampoline competitions and cheer and dance. Retractable goals and nets allow a quick turnover of the facility for increased utilization and revenue."

Houston also noted that:

  • Seating at the floor is retractable to roll away for volleyball requiring more area, and can be extended for additional seating for wrestling.
  • Integrated video applications using video displays for scoreboards; presentation and video re-play; and merchandising and branding.
  • Family entertainment areas at regional sports facilities provide activities and food offerings at the tournament site while players are waiting for their next game. Videogame areas, playgrounds, interactive movement playgrounds and turf areas enable younger children to play while older siblings are in the competition games.

For example, the Mission Concepciˇn Sports Park in San Antonio, Texas, a 65,000-square-foot center built on 55 acres, was designed by Marmon Mok. The center features: six full-size basketball courts; 12 volleyball courts; a free span gym with no columns; seating for up to 1,000 (tip and roll); tournament rooms; a training room and treatment center; a multipurpose grass field for football, soccer and lacrosse; concessions, offices and storage; and a maintenance room.

Collegiate Recreation Centers

At the college level, collegiate weight rooms continue to grow in size to meet multiple campus needs, with recreational weights and cardio for students, faculty and staff, health and kinesiology classes, and personal training.

"An emphasis on personal training has led to the introduction of dedicated areas in the weight room complex for one-on-one or one-on-two instruction," Houston said. "Personal training rooms and areas tend to be subsets of the weight room, having some free weights, pin-select weight equipment and cardio equipment for ease of movement from one activity to the other and to reduce wait time for equipment."

Furthermore, what's called Movement Areas are being incorporated into the weight room and the personal training areas as well.

"They typically contain a specialized flooring—turf, wood, synthetic wood—to accommodate large motor skill agility movement combined with specialized strength and conditioning tasks. Fitballs, elastic band apparatus (wall or ceiling mounted) and kettlebell weights are used in the Movement Area to facilitate this combined workout activity," he added.

In aquatics, the emphasis on lap swimming for recreation and health continues to grow, too.

"With proper depths and apparatus that are designed into the pool tank and the adjacent support spaces, the pools also become revenue generation opportunities for pool parties and fee-based classes and activities," he said. "These same multipurpose facilities serve intramurals, "Battleship" games, kayak classes and water aerobics."

More structured outdoor spaces for recreation activities in yoga, Pilates or aerobics, are popular. "Spaces that are part of the recreation complex, but which have some separation to control public access allow for group activities to be instructed in a more natural setting," Houston said.

"Group exercise spaces can incorporate the right features—resilient floors, mirrored walls, adjacent storage for mobile exercise devices, audio-visual systems for instruction," he added, "but these same rooms can be event spaces, utilizing the same A/V systems, as well with balconies to view other outdoor or sports activities."

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