Campus athletic arenas are in demand, and for many reasons. Part of the increasing demand came in 1995 when Title IX was passed, calling for equity in men's and women's sports, effectively doubling the need for courts. Major users of practice and competition venues include basketball, volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics.
Today, higher-education athletic programs host an average of 18 to 22 varsity sport programs, many of which need to have easy access to practice space.
At the same time, colleges and universities are hosting more concerts and guest lectures that require large gathering spaces.
To meet the need for the athletic teams to practice, programs often are forced to relocate practice to a nearby high school court or local community center — obviously not the ideal situation.
In order to better serve the needs of both sports and campus programming, colleges and universities are testing the premise that new training facilities will resolve this dilemma, which many campuses experience.
The University of Oklahoma — Norman, Iowa State University at Ames and the University of Missouri — Columbia are among the higher-education institutions that have taken steps to provide their sports programs with such practice facilities, academic centers and other amenities to enhance the experience of the student athlete.
Development of the athlete
The trend of building an athletic training facility is not limited to creating a place for practice. Colleges and universities are taking the opportunity to develop many aspects of their sports and campus programs. These include academic, athletic training/performance, rehabilitation, practice and team building.
And, as a result, higher-education institutions are able to better accommodate the campus activities that need to use the campus arena.
Functional and operational efficiencies
New athletic training facilities often are an addition or a close neighbor to the existing campus arena.
Proximity, if feasible, has several benefits. Having the facilities near each other spares the school the expense of duplicating what the team needs, including game supplies, sports medicine, team support staff, and team space including lockers, showers and other support spaces.
While a nearby location is ideal for practicing, quick access to locker rooms is critical during half-time. Because new locker rooms often are a part of new training facilities, providing immediate access from the court to the new locker room is essential as the teams need to access locker rooms quickly.
At Iowa State University (ISU), the desire for proximity has influenced the design of its new basketball training facility. Department leaders at the university are considering proposals to construct the new facility underground in order to meet the needs of the athletic department while accommodating the campus context.
The expansion of ISU's Hilton Coliseum will provide Iowa State with leading facilities for recruiting, training and developing student athletes. The addition will have two basketball practice courts, and expanded and improved locker, training and coaching facilities.
The new locker rooms are better designed especially with regard to door heights: eight feet instead of seven.
These facilities often offer a players' lounge, study rooms and meeting rooms for players and staff. New offices for department directors and coaches frequently are included as well.
Spectators win, too. At the University of Oklahoma, the new practice, training and office facilities at the Lloyd Noble Center meant improvements to the existing arena that enhance the spectator experience, as well as provide more courtside seating and flexibility.
Good student, good athlete
For many athletic directors, the decision to build an additional practice facility means achieving a twofold opportunity. It enables student players to be good students and good athletes.
To provide students the opportunity to keep their grades up, new athletic training facilities are incorporating computer centers, two-person tutoring rooms and classrooms. The University of Missouri — Columbia's Sheldon Academic Center is a good example.
Athletic directors have found, however, that what is included to successfully design a good academic space is just as important as what left out of the space.
Often void of any distracting sport emblems, mascots or university chant traditions, the academic center is designed to focus a student athlete's attention exclusively toward academic excellence.
While academic excellence means hitting the books, maximizing athletic performance means capturing the spirit of the game.
The goal of the practice court is to capture and convey team spirit. This can be a challenge. While the arena court often is bordered with about 50 rows of seats, walls border the practice court.
To enliven the practice court, emblems, mascots, chants and traditions are incorporated into the design of the space, giving it dynamic identity and linking it to the spirit that players experience in the campus arena where games are played.
Recruiting athletes and funds
New athletic training facilities are excellent tools for recruiting.
Today, athletic directors are finding that prospective student athletes come from high schools whose programs equip players better than some colleges and universities. Having cutting-edge sports training facilities provides coaches with a recruitment edge.
While athletic departments and coaching staffs find facilities helpful in recruiting student athletes, they find architects helpful when soliciting funds.
As colleges and universities identify and meet with donors interested in supporting sports programs the architect can be useful in explaining how the planned facilities will enhance the quality of sports programs on campus.
Waggoner, AIA, and Bredar, AIA, are principals with CDFM2 Architecture, Kansas City, MO. The firm has designed sporting and athletic facilities on more than 25 collegiate campuses nationwide. Architect for the Pennsylvania State University facility (shown on p. 343) is NBBJ.