Today I have got a great interview for you! I am talking to Craig Bouck from BRS Associates about future trends in recreation centers, including aquatics, operations, planning, and design. BRS is a planning and design firm that focuses primarily on community and recreation design. They work around the country to provide bring a lot of these trends we are about to talk about to LIFE. They like to focus primarily on recreation centers, because they say that this is the one architecture that at some point really touches everybody in the community.
Whether it be education, recreation, or socialization, recreation centers are a facility that a community would invest in and get a direct benefit their entire lives. Which is why it is so important to pay attention to the uniqueness of each community. There's no one design or any one solution that's going to work for every community. Nothing is “cookie cutter” anymore.
Top Planning Trend in Parks & Recreation
While it’s hard to say what the most important trend is in recreation is, one of the trends we keep seeing over and over again is the movement away from separate senior centers to multi generation centers. While this isn’t an easy discussion to have, typically seniors aren’t used to seeing their space being shared. They’re used to having ownership over their facility, so it can be hard to shift directions.
Now, seniors don’t like to even be called that because they are much more active than they used to be. What they want to do in their retirement age is actually what all generations want to do. They still want the community spaces, but now they want access to fitness classes, weights, cardio, functional training pieces, and group fitness classes. We also know that seniors ike warm water aerobics because it is a very therapeutic exercise.
Another thing that is driving the trend “pure economics”, as Craig says. Often seniors will use the facility in the morning into the afternoon, but will be underutilized at night. Teen centers may be busy afterschool and into the evening. But both of these facilities are not fully using their space to its advantage. Having a multi gen center is a great way to maximize your space and program facilities based on ability.
Top Programming Trend in Recreation Centers
People are recognizing that to get maximum benefit from building these recreation facilities, it needs to serve many purposes for many people. It’s like a swiss army knife – it can change to serve whatever need is there. A great example of this is tennis courts. Since pickleball has come along, the two sports play on the same court. Multi functional on a simple level. But using technology, rec centers can be serve in new ways.
There is a technology company called L. U. interactive that has refined a projection system can be cast on to one of these large double height walls in our gymnasium spaces. The walls become interactive, and kids can throw balls against them. You can interact with them in just by touching them and the net effect is that you create an interactive video game.
Using the previously underutilized space between the safety zone of the basketball court, that’s often become the functional training space. They're building multiple stations around the gymnasium where they can attach different sort of functional training apparatus that might be attachment points for things like TRX.
On this point, many of BRS clients often think that the gym would be a fantastic place to hold body fitness classes or aerobics classes, or even yoga, but the challenge with these spaces has always been the acoustics. Whatever is happening in the adjacent space or maybe in the running track has always interrupted the opportunity to have a successful class.
Well there's another bit of technology that people are borrowing from the night club industry. They're bringing it to recreation centers to solve this. It’s called “silent disco” and what that means is that basically in a night club setting you'll be given a pair of headphones. When you walk into a nightclub, there might be three or four different DJs playing different genres of music. These headphones have a button on the side of them where you can select which DJ you want to listen to. It's a crazy experience because they'll be dancing and enjoying it together but you can't hear anything because everyone has headphones on.
Now fast forward to the fitness industry. The same opportunity applies. The benefit is that the instructor can be heard clearly, and there can be multiple classes going on at the same time. There can be multiple different kinds of music or instructions all given out, yet they're not interrupted at all. Silent disco technology is a very immersive experience for the people and can help recreation managers better utilize their space.
Top Aquatics Trend in Recreation Centers
Aquatics is one thing that people can do throughout their entire life. They can do it no matter their ability in many respects. It has many therapeutic benefits, as well as socialization and recreation. So the question is, how can we maximize participation in the aquatic environments? Specifically, the pools that are what we call flat water pools – which are rectangular pools. They tend to be the ones that are the most underutilized. Unless you have an incredible swim team program with masters swimming, it may be underutilized.
Instead, calling them LIQUID GYMS, we can think of them as places for fitness even if we aren’t a competitive swimmer. Some ideas are paddleboard yoga, underwater hockey, slacklining across the pool, American Ninja Warrior, or log rolling.
Top Operations Trend in Recreation Centers
People are no longer really happy always participating in standard activities. Many adults aren’t necessarily comfortable or don't feel welcome in participating in sports when adults. Instead people are turning to obstacle courses and individualized sports for a different experience.
Private groups out there, like orange theory, and others have recognized this. By tracking the level of fitness exertion our bodies, they can track the different health metrics and make sure that everyone had an equal fitness experience.
Trends in Using Data Analytics to Make Decisions
The final trend here is around big data in recreation centers. This is a new endeavor because traditional benchmarking is difficult in the past. It is important that the information being compared is “apples to apples.” This is something that is trending and becoming more and more really critical to the planning and operating. We can start to learn what we should expect for expenses on the rec center per square foot, so we can then see what we can expect for staffing costs.
We know that utilities and staffing are probably the most expensive portions of our operating considerations. The totals center expenses per square foot and the staffing expenses person per square foot remain relatively consistent even if the size of the center increases. That's important to know; I think some people thought it would be an exponential differentiation, but we found that there’s a high correlation between the staffing expenses and the square foot of the building. The bigger audience that you have, you have the greater opportunity for revenues and cost recovery. There's a threshold there and that's worth understanding.
Should general fitness classes included in the price of admission or should they be offered as a separate cost? How does that affect overall cost recovery? We get that question all the time. What we found is that centers that offer the general fitness classes as part of the price of admission seem to have an equal or higher cost recovery then centers that don't.
About Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture
Designing great places for communities has been the driving passion of Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture since its early beginnings more than 43 years ago. With six principals and a total firm of 40, and offices in Denver and Dallas, our mission and commitment are the same today as they were then. By putting the client’s needs first and remaining true to architectural excellence, we have been at the forefront of innovative design. We have assisted more than 250 organizations across the country in the strategic planning, master planning, programming and design of community facilities.
Recreation centers, active adult centers, athletic complexes, libraries, city halls, cultural and performing arts centers, office buildings, visitor facilities and chapels round out the collection of projects we design. The thread that runs through them all is our commitment to an interactive process that includes our clients in the design and development of their project.
Decision makers must often navigate through a minefield of stakeholder groups and agency review, trying to balance the needs of all. We help facilitate “best-value” decisions unique to each organization. How do we do it? We wear many hats. We’re artists and analysts, mapmakers and MacGyvers, sages and band leaders, shepherds and scouts. We encourage potential clients to contact past and current clients to learn the value of a BRS-led project.
BRS design buildings and places that bring people together. We get our inspiration from the communities and clients with whom we work. We’d love to work with you.
Craig is the CEO of Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture. An extremely talented and creative designer, he has a quick intellect and discerning eye. He brings his expertise to all aspects of the practice, from project management to graphic design. Craig is a frequent speaker and author in the recreation, active aging and aquatic facility design industry.