Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Fitness MADE FUNCTIONAL

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Fitness MADE FUNCTIONAL

Article excerpt

When designing or renovating a fitness center, if s all about what's new, what's not, and what keeps customers coming back.

The shelf life of a fitness center's newness runs somewhere between the latest doeverything cell phone and classic blue jeans. What's hot in fitness today is less so in a year or two - and likely out of date in five.

Some activities hold steady, such as tennis or swimming, while others fade away.

Think Jazzercise.

To ride these changing tides, community fitness centers need flexibility and personal service to keep visitors coming back.

"We're selling something that people don't really like to do, so they will look at every excuse not to do it," says Dave Herman, CPRP, director of recreation for Lockport Township Park District in Illinois.

Function First

Herman traveled to private and public fitness centers around the country before developing plans for his $4 million, 4,500-square-foot addition to an existing facility that opened in June 2006. He asked about what works - and what doesn't. One thing he realized is that stylish design does not a fitness center make.

"Architects like a lot of arches and angles and things," Herman says. "And, really, in a fitness center, everything is square or rectangular. If you build an oval shape or a lot of angles, it's hard to place equipment. You end up with a lot of dead space."

Diane Jensen, associate director in the Department of Recreational Sports at Ohio State University, agrees. "You need to be in the room when decisions are made, during the design and construction phase," Jensen says. "If you let architects do what they want to do, then they are building their building, not your building."

One of her regrets? Not realizing that those stylish overhead lights were mounted oh-so high, making simple bulb changes a hassle.

"We should have done a better job thinking about how we were going to maintain and clean all parts of the building," Jensen says of her $154 million, nearly 600,000-square-foot project, which opened in September 2005. "It may look beautiful, but if it's 65 feet in the air, that's something to think about."

The efficiency in labor and energy usage certainly satisfy the function category. All exterior doors at the OSU facility lock and unlock automatically on schedule. Carbon dioxide sensors trigger HVAC systems. Ceiling fans spin year-round, making the place feel cooler than it is. Computers also control indoor lighting, and push-to-use buttons light outdoor courts and such as needed, rather than having bulbs blazing.

Natural lighting, pleasant outdoor views, automatic toilets and sinks, and ultraviolet pool sanitation that lowers the use of chlorine also fit into the "greener" feel of many new fitness centers. Jensen encourages those in the planning stages to take a good look at LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) principles.

Equipment Ins and Outs

Decisions about equipment must be inspired by community demographics and needs. Some fitness centers prefer to purchase a whole line of equipment from one vendor, while others would rather handpick individual pieces from a variety of lines if it means getting the best of everything for every body part.

That's why Orange Coast College's $9.5 million, 30,000-square-foot fitness complex, which opened in May 2007, features such an eclectic look in its second-floor cardio, strength-training, and exercise-science labs.

With demographics ranging from 20year-old college athletes to 40-something campus staff and senior fitness program participants, Leon Skeie, professor of physical education and athletics, was less concerned with matching equipment than he was with a particular piece's effectiveness.

Because the facility is academic, not recreational, all users participate as part of a campus course, including having access to individualized fitness testing and personal training. …

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