High-quality sports facilities are an essential tool in recruiting top collegiate athletes and coaches. They enhance the school's competitiveness and enable expansion of the school's sports programs. In choosing schools, top athletes and coaches assess the quality of the stadium, playing fields, track and courts.
But they also will be looking at the facilities, equipment and amenities behind the scenes — locker rooms, training rooms, team meeting rooms, visiting team rooms, equipment rooms, laundry/uniform storage rooms, alumni/recruitment rooms and coaches' offices. Athletes, in particular, focus on three areas: locker rooms, training rooms and team meeting rooms.
A solid foundation
Higher-education athletics projects have become increasingly complex. They require a vision that incorporates design, construction, renovation, management and planning. A process that involves all constituencies — administration, coaching staff, contributors, athletes and housekeeping staff — and open communication with the project team helps take care of the details that can lead a project to success.
Effective space planning is essential to develop team support facilities with desirable adjacencies and good flow among the sports venues, locker rooms, training rooms and team rooms. There is no universal layout; instead, the way the space is laid out will reflect the individual culture of the school, the effect of limitations imposed by space and existing facilities, and the users' particular needs.
Lighting, color and materials are as important to the design of team support space as they are in the public venue. This means using abundant natural light balanced with effective artificial lighting, including color to stimulate or relax, as appropriate, and selecting materials that are easily maintained and appropriate for the sport. Considerations for particular areas:
The locker room is the heart of the behind-the-scenes action, where the team prepares for an event and celebrates or commiserates afterward. Space planning for a central dressing area begins with consideration of the size of the team and associated number and size of lockers, which typically are 30 inches wide and 18 inches deep. The coaching staff will identify additional uses for the locker room.
Some programs, typically those with 12 to 30 players, also use the locker room for team meetings, so it should have a whiteboard, pulldown screen and projection capabilities, with the lockers arranged in a U-shape with one open end.
The introduction of natural light into the space enhances the environment. This usually is accomplished through clerestory windows, skylights and diffusing glazing systems, such as glass block. For improved color rendition, the preferred artificial lighting sources are a combination of incandescent and compact fluorescent or incandescent only.
Because of the heavy use that locker rooms will receive, finish materials must be durable, easy to maintain and appropriate for the sports and associated gear. For example, flooring should be appropriate for footwear with rubber or steel cleats. Depending upon initial and life-cycle cost variables, wall materials may run the gamut from epoxy-painted cement masonry units, to tile, to painted gypsum board.
Materials and finishes should be specified to meet both short- and long-term budgets, and the institution's expectations for the long-term appearance and maintainability of the facility.
To prevent the growth of mold and mildew in the warm, humid environment of the locker room and associated shower room, ventilation should meet or exceed ASHRAE air-exchange standards.
Team rooms often are multifunction spaces that combine athletics and academics. Used as a lounge, bonding place, “second home,” or even as a kind of classroom, the team room should provide comfortable seating for individuals and groups, including cable television, a VCR and DVD player, study area with Internet access (often wireless), and storage for reference books and videotapes. Many times the team room/lounge is used for smaller group meetings and the locker room for larger group meetings.
Both the team room and locker room are key places to use branding, with the logo and team colors on finishes and objects, and appropriate storage and lighting for displays of photographs, awards, memorabilia, and inspirational signs and posters.
Today there are few, if any, differences between women's and men's locker rooms and team rooms, other than those required by the particular sport and the provision of a small private drying/changing space adjoining each shower stall in the women's locker room (some men's facilities include this amenity as well).
Typically, a number of sports share a larger, coed training room. It may contain items such as hydrotherapy and weight-training equipment, and wrapping or massage areas. There also should be space set aside for viewing sports-conditioning tapes. Training rooms often provide nice views of the outdoors, including sports venues.
If a locker room is not easily accessible to the main training room, smaller satellite training rooms may be required. Each locker room typically has access to adjacent small, sport- or sex-specific rooms where the training staff can tape or wrap players before an event and provide first aid for injured athletes during an event. Typically they will be equipped with a sink, icemaker, training table and supply/equipment storage units.
When budget allows, sports facilities have evolved beyond pure functionality to offer some of the atmosphere, features and amenities of commercial sports and fitness clubs. These include attractive artificial and natural lighting with control systems that save energy and offer a range of options to enhance users' experiences.
Many of these facilities also are equipped with good sound systems and acoustics for background music. Some also offer sauna and steam rooms in their centralized training facilities in addition to the more standard whirlpool and hydrotherapy equipment. State-of-the-sport academic institutions also are beginning to incorporate diagnostic imaging equipment into training facilities to enable team physicians to diagnose injuries at the scene.
Because of the extended hours and relative isolation of sports facilities relative to the central core of a campus, security has become a priority for administrators and parents. Good exterior and interior lighting, closed-circuit television, cyber access systems and emergency call boxes are integral to a facility's security.
Dahnert, AIA, is an associate principal and project manager with Woolpert, Charlotte, N.C. Pack, ASLA, is an associate principal and project manager with the firm. The firm worked on the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, project. (See sidebar on p. 22).
Crimson Tide rolls into soccer stadium
The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, wanted to improve recruiting for its women's varsity soccer program by offering tournament-class facilities.
The soccer stadium, completed in 2004, was built to support the existing field and includes grandstands designed for 2,000 spectators, with a press box, restrooms and concession.
Behind the scenes, the facility is equally impressive. Facilities are planned for functional relationships and easy access to the field. All spaces have natural light and are well-ventilated and -conditioned. Color and materials were selected for practicality, maintainability and aesthetics. The locker room, team room, training room and the coaches' office all are easily accessible and adequately sized. Training and team rooms are planned for coed use, recognizing that coaching and training staff may be either male or female.
The training room has a large-screen television for training videos, rerunning game tapes and relaxation. Study and lounge areas have computer data cabling for campus and Internet connectivity.
A separate locker/meeting room area is provided for umpires and coaches with private changing, shower and toilet facilities for either sex. The facility includes support areas for laundry and storage.
The visiting team has locker and shower room facilities only. Although these facilities are hospitable and comfortable, with both natural and artificial lighting, they are smaller and have more basic finishes.
In inches, the typical width of athletic lockers.