“Sound Bodies, Sound Minds, Fabulous Facilities: Campus Recreation Buildings for the Twenty-First Century”
by: Ann Sobiech Munson, CSI CDT
Published in Iowa Commerce
December 2003/January 2004
New recreation and athletic facilities at today’s academic institutions go well beyond the armories and field houses built during the last century. Through thoughtful design and collaborative processes, these spaces have become centers for athletic program excellence, focal points for student recruiting, and hubs of community involvement.
Students now are “used to facilities that glisten and sparkle,” notes Rick Hartzell, Athletic Director at the University of Northern Iowa. Facilities in higher education include dramatic rather than purely functional spaces with wellness centers, recreation areas, arenas, strength training, aquatic centers, and athletic training education. These buildings in many cases serve the institution and the surrounding community.
Hartzell stresses the importance of top-notch facilities in developing the school’s athletic programs. The goals of recruiting the best and brightest students, and of nurturing nationally competitive volleyball, basketball, and wrestling programs, require “facilities to match those aspirations.”
Central College in Pella, Iowa is no stranger to national championship athletic teams. The Ron Schipper Fitness Center, designed by RDG Bussard Dikis and opened in 1999, continues this tradition of athletic excellence in what Central College calls the “capstone” to their Kuyper Athletic Complex. Central’s website notes that the 7,200 square-foot strength and conditioning center is among the largest at any Iowa college or university.
Excellent students reinforce excellent programs, whether they are athletic, academic or other extracurricular activities. As UNI’s Hartzell noted, high-quality facilities attract high-quality students. At Central, the open, two-story lobby of the Schipper Fitness Center is used to welcome student-athletes during large group recruiting events as a starting point for their campus visit. Summer athletic camps utilize the lobby for check-in. The lobby becomes a focus for recruiting activities.
But because the Schipper Fitness Center is not just for student-athletes, it assists in the recruitment of all students by providing an additional amenity to attract prospective students. The large strength-training center is open to everyone. Images of the building now appear in a wide array of promotional materials for the college. A computer room was located adjoining the main lobby for general student use, and all students, along with faculty, college employees, and community sports club members, enjoy what Athletic Director Al Dorenkamp describes as a “user-friendly” facility.
Students aren’t the only beneficiaries of quality athletic facility design. These facilities respond to a wide variety of needs and have a positive impact the ripples well beyond the walls of the institution. Design of flexible multi-use facilities allows for greater shared use of the space by students and community, potentially contributing to the overall economic development of the area.
At Central, Dorenkamp was involved in brainstorming, fundraising, design, and the construction phase of the building. He credits the architects with mobilizing everyone who would be affected by the facility, from coaches to the maintenance staff, and responding to their needs through the design process.
Community involvement proved to be one of the strengths of the Lied Multipurpose Complex at Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD) in Council Bluffs. The project was funded by a combination of public and private funds in that Rich Connell, Director of Facilities at ISD, calls a “good marriage of public and private dollars.” A group of 21 people, including representatives of parents, students, staff, and the community, worked with InVision Architecture to design a building that became “a win-win situation for everyone.” The school uses the facility intensely for a certain number of hours a week, and then opens it up for community use. While the school has 135 students ranging in age from 4 to 18 years, Connell comments that the Lied Center, built to last a hundred years, “looks like it belongs on a college campus.”
From a fitness center addition at a small liberal arts college to a multipurpose complex at a primary and secondary school for hearing impaired students, these projects exemplify the new role recreation facilities play on academic campuses, strengthening student-centered programs as well as enhancing communities-at-large through well-designed buildings.