Planning for the Future

Colleges and universities built around the turn of the 20th century continue to deal with the challenge of trying to expand and reinvigorate recreation centers never designed for expansion. These key facilities were designed to meet the needs of the campus population at the time they were built, with little thought for the future. However, as campus trends evolve and universities plan for the future, several of these iconic facilities simply lack the space to successfully support modern campus recreation demands.

This reality places universities in an interesting position – how do you strategically expand a building never intended for expansion? Or, how do you create an entirely new facility that will allow for expansion and support future change and growth? These can be difficult challenges, but there are key steps universities can take to position themselves for success.

Step 1 – Know Your Resources.

The first step university and campus recreation leadership should take is fully educating themselves on existing resources. Those fortunate enough to have an existing facility with available land close by should execute a facility audit of the building to fully understand its physical condition. A physical and functional analysis will bring to light any potential deficiencies, be they architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical or related to pluming and fire protection. With this baseline assessment in hand, teams can then know for sure the full investments associated with renovation, expansion and/or building new.

The University of Minnesota  reinvigorated their campus recreation center. The University of Minnesota successfully expanded and reinvigorated their campus recreation center despite site limitations.

Step 2 – Know your Plan. Plan in Advance.

A huge question that needs to be answered when considering facility expansion is, “do we have enough land?” While rural campuses may have ample land available, most institutions in heavily populated areas, do not. In extreme situations, recreation centers may have been created with a “one and done” mentality, meaning future growth will have to take place elsewhere.

If you’re considering expansion of your recreation center and have not identified a location for future growth, now is the time to talk to your campus architect or planner. They can share the campus master plan which outlines the long-term vision for the campus and can help you identify growth strategies, land development scenarios, proposed infrastructure improvements and future building sites.

Interior view of updated Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo Recreation Center Interior view of updated Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo Recreation Center
Interior view of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo's renovated recreation center Interior view of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo’s renovated recreation center

Step 3 – Conduct a Feasibility Study

If answers for expansion aren’t clear after assessing your facility and master plan (and maybe even if they are), it might be worth executing a feasibility study. These studies require minimal investment and help universities evaluate available sites, right-size program needs, develop conceptual strategies to accommodate projected growth, compare pros and cons of various options and establish a solid foundation for the future. Feasibility studies also quickly help you test various options – should we add a larger volume space such as a gymnasium onto an existing facility or should we consider smaller, more flexible spaces such as fitness or multipurpose rooms?

It’s not easy to expand a recreation center or create a brand new facility with future expansion in mind. However, as more and more universities face this challenge, it’s critical campus leadership take time to understand existing facilities, study campus master plans and assess all options before taking action.  Investing in these key steps will help ensure the future recreation center is best suited for the campus it serves.

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