PRB Articles

The Facility Audit, Part 1

Quick Facts: Planning, Step by Step

Step 1: Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Step 2: Use a master or comprehensive plan

Step 3: Use a participatory planning approach

Step 4: Research your funding options

Step 5: Organize a project planning committee

Step 6: Understand when to renovate, retrofit, or replace

Step 7: Develop a program statement for the architect

Step 8: Use planning professionals


The purpose of this article (Part 1 of 3) is to present a basic outline for those charged with the responsibility of planning a new sport or recreational facility. Such an opportunity should be enjoyed and not looked at as an awesome, unattainable task.

There are several assumptions that must be stated to simplify the process.

First, this article assumes that some decision has been made that supports the building of a facility.

Second, the money for this facility, at this point, is not an issue (I know that there will need to be financial considerations; we're just not ready for them yet).

Finally, there is a willingness to involve others in the planning.

Steps to Success

Given these assumptions, this article will focus on three key topics: planning guidelines, the architect and the facility consultant.

There are a number of "formulas" for planning. I happen to like the steps set forth by Harvey White and James Karabetsos in their chapter in Planning and Designing Facilities. These planning guidelines have been adopted by the Council on Facilities and Equipment (CFE), a substructure of the American Association for Active Lifestyles and Fitness. The council has been involved with publishing a facilities guide or resource since 1946, completing its 10th edition in 2002.

Following are the primary steps that should be taken as the planning for a new facility is undertaken:

1. The first guideline is to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Designing for inclusion is more than the law, it's a philosophy. The legal evolution of inclusionary design has gradually improved facility access and egress for people with disabilities.

There are an abundance of specific resources for people who are committed to inclusionary design. But, nothing will be done well without an early commitment to this concept and to meeting the legal requirements. See Parks & Rec Business magazine, November 2003, page 18, for more information on functional accessibility. Also, federal accessibility guidelines can be found at

2. Use a master or comprehensive plan. Some organizations have more than one facility or there is some expectation for growth or change in the future.

If this is the case, then a master plan that considers the development of facilities and spaces in a broader context will be important to the planning process.

Planning a single facility may not require a comprehensive plan, but don't be short sighted and find future planning constrained by earlier development that failed to appropriately plan for program growth or changing demands. A master plan will typically provide short- and long-range thinking regarding the organization and its future needs.

If you have a master plan, a good idea is to arrange to have it updated on an annual basis. Often, the organization puts some real time and energy into creating a master plan (usually with some professional help), and when the work is all done, they set the plan aside and focus on one or two specific elements of the plan.

A couple of years later, when they want to figure out what to do next, they find that the plan has not been updated to reflect important changes over time. Some specific elements that might be updated each year include:

• Changes in property lines

• Changes to any existing facilities including access and egress

• New facilities, parking lots, out-buildings, etc.

• Changes in local codes that have to do with traffic patterns, building restrictions (height, setback, footprint, etc.)

• Changes in utilities, etc.

• Future master planning decisions

3. Use a participatory planning approach. Look around your organization and consider the many people who the new facility may serve. Then anticipate a need to create a kind of ownership in your planning process.

A good planning process will seek input from the several invested groups of users: program participants, members, guests, and of course the facility and program staff (managers, supervisors, program leaders, maintenance, and so on).

For the process to be thoroughly successful the assumption is that your organization will use participatory planning as your approach.

The development of a participatory planning team and process can be done by following the steps below:

• Establish a building committee that includes those listed earlier. This group should be diversified to ensure representation of as many segments and opinions of the community as possible.

• Develop procedures for identifying the needs and desires of the customers and the community, as well as what the community is willing to support.

• Prepare a database of demographic, programmatic, facility, financial and other related information dealing with the aging population.

• Compare survey results and statistical information to determine program and facility priorities.

• Conduct public hearings to obtain community input to supplement needs assessment results.

• Appoint subcommittees to work in-depth on various aspects of the project, such as financial package, development of space and floor plans, programmatic needs, site selection, etc.

4. Research your funding options. This topic is an important component of the steps set forth in a good planning process. However, given the related assumption above (for simplification), funding is clearly a topic worthy of a separate article, but should fall in lines with the logical planning guideline steps.

5. Organize a project planning committee. When an organization is truly committed to the participatory planning approach, the project planning committee will be representative of a number of key facility areas.

White and Karabetsos suggested the following representative committee members: Users, administrators and program specialists (mentioned above), architects, specialists (financial, acoustical, energy, illumination, managerial, other), engineers (structural, mechanical, electrical and civil), and a facility consultant.

Such a mix may seem overwhelming. However, the size of this committee must match a very large task. "Among the most important responsibilities of this committee are to gather information from user groups and use it to prepare a final, coherent, and informative document for the architect" (White & Karabetsos, 2002, p. 36).

"This report is called the program statement (see below) and is used by the architect to develop a facility design." Subsequent tasks for this committee include reviewing the architect's concept drawings and schematics, coordinating the design planning and implementation, and considering program changes.

Usually a representative of the administration chairs the project planning committee. It is important that all members have input in the process.

However, the architect, building specialists, engineers and other specialists will usually serve in an ex-officio role on the committee.

6. Understand when to renovate, retrofit or replace. Discussion of this important component of the planning process also deserves its own venue.

Clearly the decision to build new versus renovating or retrofitting needs to be done before you reach this point in the planning process; and likely in concert with project funding.

A primary factor regarding the decision to build new vs. renovating and/or retrofitting is the possible impact upon current programming.

Other factors include cost, site selection (is there enough space to build new and/or expand), architectural and structural standards, educational considerations (needs of current and future programs), community needs and restrictions and life expectancy of the current facility.

7. Develop a program statement for the architect. More than any other document that the architect may use, the program statement is the tool that connects the organization's goals and objectives for each of its programs and services to the facility design in concept.

"The building program is a written description of purpose/mission, objectives and timetables; organizational structure and function; programmatic needs; interrelations of health/fitness activities; other program activities; and the proposed future use for the facility." (Sawyer, 1999, p. 223).

8. Use planning professionals. There are three types of planning professionals: Program specialists, facility consultants and architects. An effective planning process encourages the use of these professionals.

The program specialists are likely already on board in your organization. These are the people who are currently responsible for your organization's programs and services. Unless they are lacking experience or expertise in planning, the program specialists "…should be acutely aware of their programs' facility needs and some of the problematic areas that need to be addressed. The involvement of these professionals increases the likelihood that the project planning committee is both accurate and realistic when developing its program statement" (White & Karabetsos, 2002, p. 40).

Perhaps the most important consideration regarding the input from various project planning committee members is the difference between needs and desires; and current vs. future programming.

If the program statement is not realistic in its effort to best represent the current and future needs of the organization (perhaps it is too conservative and/or too grandiose), then the program statement may be rejected is either insufficient and/or too costly.

Because of the importance of the other two types of planning professionals, each is further discussed below.

The Architect

Early on, the architect is usually an ex-officio member of in the project planning committee. They are on the committee to lend professional advice (if already retained) or they are there to listen to the discussion and thereby capture a better sense of the program as described in the


Once the program statement is complete, the project architect begins the act of transforming words into concepts and schematics. The importance of having a good architect or architectural firm cannot be overemphasized.

Selecting the architect or firm should involve consideration of the following items:

• Membership in the American Institute of Architects (AIA)

• A license to practice in the state where the facility is to be built

• A good reputation

• Good references

• Examples of work on similar projects

• Ability to work with the building committee

• Ability to recommend reliable and respected contractors and subcontractors

• Ability to provide strong competent supervision for the project

The project planning committee may wish to consider the advantages of design-build versus design and build. The first describes a company that provides the both the architectural services and the general contractor. The second is where the project utilizes the services of separate individuals/companies for design and build.

A design-build approach may allow the firm to control costs on changes they have to make or delays in construction, because the architect and builder work for the same firm. A guaranteed maximum price (GMP) is more likely in this case, which is better for the organization's bottom-line.

Additionally, change-orders by the owner may not cost as much in a design-build approach.

A design and build approach allows the organization to seek out separate and perhaps higher quality individuals, to each design or build the facility.

However, an independent architect may not work very closely with the builder, if they are not really invested in the project; allowing costs to escalate when mistakes are made (especially when such mistakes are not found until after the building is turned over to the owner). And, most change-orders are more expensive in the design and build approach.

Finally, "fit" is an important component of the selection process. The architect needs to thoroughly understand the organization's vision for this facility, and respect the wishes of its owner.

Fit has a lot to do with the way the individual interfaces with the organization and its representatives. Does the architect listen and capture the desires of the organization when designing? Does the architect pay attention to the specific needs of the organization, or focus more on creating a monument to their personal artistic ability? Further, "fit" though subjective, is sometimes best observed when looking at the overall satisfaction by project committee members, of the process.

The Facility Consultant

Unless you've experienced the reality of "million dollar bloopers" a facility consultant may seem like just one more expense.

All you need to do is visit a few sport and/or recreation facilities and talk with their users to fully understand the result of flawed planning!

After witnessing the results of program planning committees working without facility specialists, I can guarantee that a good specialist will more that pay for their fee with the savings from change-orders or necessary fixes later when your trying to open or operate the facility.

Selecting a good facility consultant is an important task. Listings of consultants along with their individual areas of expertise are getting easier and easier to access online and many are found here in this magazine.

Be ready to tell the consultant exactly what needs to be completed. Then they will be in the best position to let you know their fee. And, don't hesitate to bring someone in from far away if there is not a consultant available locally. As stated above, the failure to hire a good facility consultant can cost an organization significantly more than travel and consulting fees from an expert in facility planning and design.

Specific considerations for hiring a facility consultant include:

• Educational background

• Work experience

• Planning experience

• Proximity to the project

• Reputation

• Ability to work with architects and engineers

• Ability to understand and read blueprints and specification documents

• Ability to understand the organization's programs and the future of such programs and others (Sawyer, 1999, p. 226).

Follow established planning guidelines to guarantee a program statement that meets your organization's current and future needs. Select the right architect for the job, and hire a facility consultant to increase the probability of success.

Dr. Richard J. LaRue is Chair of Exercise and Sport Performance, University of New England.


LaRue, R. J. (1997). That's the Job of a Consultant -- A Facility Specialist. Focus on Facilities, pp. 1-3. [A publication of the Council on Facilities and Equipment]

Sawyer, T. H. (2002). Facilities planning for health, fitness, physical activity, recreation, and sports: Concepts and applications [10th edition] [Editor in Chief]. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

LaRue, R. J. (2002). Chapter 7: Designing for inclusion: A historical, conceptual, and regulatory guide to planning an accessible environment.

White, H. R. and J. D. Karabetsos (2002). Chapter 3: Planning and Designing Facilities.

Sawyer, T. H. and O. Smith (1999). The management of clubs, recreation and sport: Concepts and applications. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

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