Planning and Designing Safe Facilities: If All Hazards Were Obvious, This Article Would Be Unnecessary

By Seidler, Todd L. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Planning and Designing Safe Facilities: If All Hazards Were Obvious, This Article Would Be Unnecessary


Seidler, Todd L., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The following two articles complete this two-part feature. In the April issue, after an introduction by feature editor Julia Ann Hypes, Michael G. Hypes discussed the planning process for facility development, and Thomas H. Sawyer examined the many ways in which facilities are financed.--Ed.

Those who manage physical education, athletic, and recreation programs have a number of legal duties that they are expected to carry out. Among these is an obligation to take reasonable precautions to ensure safe programs and facilities. According to Hronek and Spengler (2002, p. 273), "The law recognizes a duty owed by coaches, recreation managers, and their staff to provide safe facilities for both participants and spectators." Physical education and sports facilities that are poorly planned, designed, or constructed may lead to many problems for program leaders in those facilities. A poorly designed facility may limit the programs that can be offered; make the facility harder to operate, maintain, and supervise; and significantly increase the participants' exposure to hazardous conditions. These factors can lead to a greater likelihood of injury and can increase the organization's exposure to claims of negligence.

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A poorly designed facility can usually be traced to a lack of expertise or effort on the part of the planning and design team. It is not uncommon for a sport, physical education, or recreation facility to be designed by an architect who has little or no experience working with that type of building. For persons without the proper background and understanding of the unique aspects of sport and recreation facilities, many opportunities for mistakes exist that may lead to increased problems related to safety, operations, and staffing.

Design problems commonly found in activity facilities include inadequate safety zones around courts and fields, poorly planned pedestrian traffic flow through activity areas, poor access control and security, lack of proper storage space, and the use of improper building materials. Safety problems related to design are often difficult, expensive, or impossible to fix once the facility has been built, and especially once the facility is in use. These facilities must be planned and designed by professionals with activity-related knowledge and experience and with the input of appropriate faculty, coaches, and staff who will work in the facility.

One essential aspect of planning multipurpose facilities is to consider all foreseeable activities that may take place within its walls. A gymnasium designed specifically for recreation will be very different than one meant for large groups of spectators. By identifying as many potential uses as possible and planning for each, many problems can be reduced or eliminated before construction even starts. This article will provide a brief look at a few of the areas where errors in the planning and design process often create hazardous conditions within physical activity facilities; it does not cover the safe design of playgrounds, which has been discussed in a previous JOPERD feature (Hudson & Thompson, 2000).

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Security and Access Control

Controlling access to sport, physical education, and recreation facilities is an important function of facility managers. When planning a facility, access to the facility and access within the facility both need to be addressed.

Legal liability, fee collection, deterrence of vandalism and theft, crowd control, patron safety and satisfaction, and maintaining exclusivity and value are a few of the reasons it is necessary to deny access to persons who are not authorized to use the facility. Multipurpose facilities can present unique challenges for controlling access. When an entire facility is open for recreation, an open access plan may be utilized. However, if a varsity basketball game is scheduled, certain doors, gates, and fences can be opened or closed in order to restrict spectator access to the arena, while still allowing the rest of the facility to remain open for recreational users, and affording emergency egress as required. …

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