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Staying Ahead of the Competition

School recreation centers being designed and built today have more requirements than ever and have become arenas where students gather to compete, exercise and socialize. Key elements in their design revolve around the user's desire for a fun experience that incorporates visual interest, functional layout and brilliant colors.

Probably no single element of the recreation center has changed more through the years than the equipment and materials inside it. Facilities constructed 30 to 40 years ago incorporated materials such as hardwood flooring on concrete in gyms, ceramic tile at pools, and plaster around racquetball courts. Equipment in those facilities included barbell weights, climbing ropes and basic gymnastics apparatus.

The range of activities in today's facilities-from aerobics to rock climbing-demands new and improved materials with performance characteristics that are flexible and durable. Sport-flooring systems must be ultra-resilient to protect participants from injuries caused by repeated jumping, while providing excellent ball bounce and traction to accommodate several sports and activities. Movable walls must be lightweight and transparent to allow quick configuration of court surfaces for different games.

Realism of color and texture, along with durability from constant use, are key characteristics necessary for simulated rock surfaces used on indoor climbing walls. Rubberized surfaces and floor support systems that are available for running tracks, and in some cases basketball courts, provide superior protection for legs, hips and joints. The surfaces are not only easier on the human frame, but also have proven to be easily installed, colorful, resilient, and able to withstand the punishment of constant use.

Lighting types and fixtures have been developed to enable various lighting levels to be utilized for different needs. Newer fixtures provide even distribution of light with less glare, and skylights offer energy-efficient, glare-free natural light.

Offering security and flexibility Recreation centers typically are divided between unsecured and secured activity areas. An entrance control point is established along the division of these areas to ensure authorized users are admitted. Unsecured zones allow the general public access to selected activities, such as video-games, food service and sales functions. Locating these activities in the unsecured zone ensures a larger volume of users for these revenue-generating areas.

While walls, doors and corridors are capable of providing the necessary separation between zones, an open design that utilizes glass walls and changes in elevation accomplishes the same result, while allowing greater visibility from one zone to the next.

An age-old design challenge of recreation centers is how to use space more efficiently and with optimum flexibility. Many of the spaces in the facility must be considered multi-functional.

Gyms should have the flexibility to be converted into indoor soccer areas, volleyball or badminton courts, oval tracks for jogging, short tracks for sprints, a myriad of exercise configurations, and be large enough to accommodate special events, such as a cheerleading competition, and the spectators of those events.

One example of flexible space is an archery room for collegiate competition. A room of this size that has proper lighting and the necessary markings can be converted into a dining or dance hall with adjustments in lighting, increased air supply and the provision for food service. The natatorium also may have simultaneous, multiple uses by zoning areas so the activities-and the noise they produce-do not significantly overlap. A bulkhead can be used in the pool to zone an area so a varsity diving competition may be held at one end and a recreational swimming class at the other.

The sound system also can be zoned through various adjustments to allow a coach to speak to the swimmers at the same time a physical-education instructor teaches a life-saving class.

Blending old and new While the specialty sports of today place more demands on the design, construction and maintenance of a recreation center, some of the activities have not changed and remain popular, such as jogging, swimming, basketball and racquetball.

Basketball and racquetball courts are two of the most traditional areas of a center. The design of these areas has not changed significantly and lends itself to being converted for other uses. These areas also allow for the redundancy of continuous activities and schedules-both in recreation and instruction.

One area that is evolving deals with weightlifting and aerobics. Cardiovascular machines are coming out of weight rooms and into lounge areas and open spaces, where participants can work out and watch television or other activities. The machines can be set up along balconies where the user can watch an activity above or below while working out.

Open-area design also allows for the traditional activities to be blended with the latest trends and specialty sports. One of the hottest new trends has been indoor rock climbing with its various walls and structures. Rock climbing does not require a great deal of building square footage relative to a gym or pool, but relies on height to provide interest.

The primary design goal of Texas A&M University, College Station, Recreational Sports Building & Natatorium was to provide an exuberant atmosphere that would entice students to want to exercise for recreation and health. The 286,000-square-foot center incorporates the latest design features of today's major recreation centers, implementing the following ideas:

The building plan was organized by two primary factors. The first was a functional arrangement of spaces appropriate for this facility type that allowed use of shared support spaces. The second was having as many activities as possible be viewed from the lobby and other activity areas to provide a panorama of recreational choices.

The introduction of natural light was important to provide activity areas that were not only pleasant places to play, but also safe and well lit. However, the building's energy budget prescribed a careful orientation and selection of energy-efficient materials.

Clerestories with vertically installed translucent panels were used around the gyms, at the natatorium, and interior circulation areas of the racquetball/handball courts and activity rooms. The translucent panels allow the penetration of natural light, while providing thermal insulation.

Two large gymnasiums are available for either eight basketball courts, 10 volleyball courts or 12 badminton courts. One gymnasium can accommodate two indoor soccer fields. The center also features 14 racquetball/handball courts and two squash courts.

The natatorium includes an Olympic-size pool, a 19-foot diving pool with 1- and 3-meter spring boards along with various platforms, a 5-lane instructional pool and seating for 2,500.

The facility's centerpiece is a 42-foot-tall, 3,500-square-foot, three-dimensional rock-climbing structure with movable hand and foot holds. The structure includes beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert climbing areas.

The building forms were designed to achieve several goals. The sloped roofs of the gyms, archery range and natatorium appear as "forms in flight." They were expressive of the goal for exuberance in the overall composition of the building as well as the expression of the functions within.

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