PRB Articles

The Facility Audit, Part 2

Despite the recession, there is a definite building boom in parks and recreation. Its reasons are multiple -- whether based on demand, more creative ways of procuring funding or the need to update outdated facilities -- but in this series we're not concerned with the reasons, but with the means to the end.

This article is the second in a series regarding planning, designing, and building a new sport or recreational facility. The first, published in April, looked at the planning/design process and focused upon three critical steps to success: planning guidelines, the architect and the facility consultant.

This article will consider several key components of facility design (as they relate to operation and safety), including:

• Program space

• Circulation (traffic patterns)

• Surface materials

• Electrical and mechanical

• Ancillary spaces

• Storage

This article and following articles will also identify and describe several significant considerations regarding the legal aspects of facility design.

Program Space

Facilities are frequently labeled as single purpose or multipurpose. Single purpose facilities have a single activity space or venue. Such facilities might programmatically focus only on gymnastics (a gymnasium), dance (a studio), ice hockey (an arena), basketball (a court), swimming (a pool, usually with locker rooms), and so on.

Multipurpose facilities are just that, multiple activity or venue spaces. Organizations that can afford to build and maintain single purpose facilities are somewhat limited to those with outstanding or recognized programs. Otherwise, organizations will typically build facilities where the spaces can be utilized for a variety of programs.

The importance of single vs. multipurpose is really a matter of programmatic needs and anticipated outcomes. If an organization strives to provide quality programs offered in spaces that are both appropriately designed and safe for a variety of activities, they need to focus on planning that will achieve activity spaces that are functional, flexible and maintainable.


Facility circulation references a concept that begins with the access and egress to program spaces and considers the most effective and efficient people (and equipment) traffic patterns. There are absolutely no good reasons that in any newly designed facility users (staff and participants) find getting around from place to place difficult. Yet too often this becomes the case with improper planning.

Proper planning has professionals (architects and facility consultants) frequently utilizing bubble diagrams or schematics to consider space placement, adjacencies, access, and egress. Such a diagram serves to fully map out the facility circulation.

Properly determined access and egress manages facility and space availability, and establishes appropriate traffic patterns. These traffic patterns move people most effectively and efficiently to and from the spaces they are intended to use, and are essential outcomes of facility circulation planning.

Sawyer and Smith (1999) included the following examples in their list of facility circulation planning considerations:

• Locker and shower facilities need to be easily accessible to both indoor and outdoor activity venues.

• Shower facilities need to be located between wet areas such as a controlled access corridor to a pool, and dry areas like the locker area. And, between the showers and the locker area there needs to be a drying area.

• The placement of service, activity, instructional, and spectator areas should provide for efficient means of supervising those using the facilities.

• The size and placement of corridors, lobbies, stairs and doors, between related activity, instructional, and service areas needs to carefully considered to ensure efficient user movement.

• Spectator areas should be separated from activity space and the spectators should enter directly into the spectator spaces from outside or lobby without going through other activity or service areas.

Surface Materials

Surfaces: Interior (ceilings, walls, and floors) surfaces and exterior (roofs and walls) surfaces are significantly important to the quality of the facility and the ability of the facility to meet the intended needs.

Ceilings: Impact durability, acoustical properties, illumination refraction (sending diffused light back toward the floor), insular level, ease of maintenance, anti absorption qualities (for wet areas), and aesthetic characteristics.

Walls: Impact durability, acoustical properties, glare reduction, insular levels, ease of maintenance, ability to seal in/out moisture, and aesthetics.

Floors (per intended activities): Impact absorption, coefficient of friction (e.g., shoe to surface), overall durability, ease of maintenance, functional appropriateness, floor diagrams, and aesthetics.

Roofs: especially with regard to geography and weather, great care should be taken to design a roof so that it properly sheds any type of moisture, without building up and/or leaking through to the space below. Both the design and the roofing materials must work together to provide long-lasting and easily maintained, safe sheltered environment.

Walls: Impact durability, ease of maintenance, ability to seal in/out moisture, and aesthetics.

Electrical & Mechanical

Electrical Service Controls: The control of all electrical service in a facility should be manageable from a central control area or station. A central control station allows the staff to better manage both facility operation and its use. In spaces such as stairwells, bathrooms, closets, and even classrooms -- rather than individual light switches -- the trend is toward motion-activated switches that turn lights on whenever anyone enters the space. After a period of time, if there is no motion in the space, the sensor-activated switches turn the lights off.

Illumination: Recommended levels for illumination per venue are published by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America ( These levels have been developed by a panel of experts on facilities after careful consideration of the activities involved. Planners should deliberately design illumination levels to minimally meet and/or exceed these levels. It is important to note that proper illumination provides a balance of brightness with a quantity and quality of light that is appropriate for good visibility.

Alarms and Signals (Emergency, Security, Warning and Timed): Fire alarms may be the most common, but there are alarms that signal the staff in the event of an emergency in an activity space; security alarms for access/egress doors (react when the door is opened); alarms that warn of a carbon monoxide or chlorine gas leak; and timed signals that notify users that an activity period is over.

Electronic Communication: The standard communication tools in sport and recreation facilities include an intercom system and two-way audio systems to various activity and office spaces. Additionally, telecommunication has advanced tremendously, allowing for the integration of telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) or teletypewriters (TTYs), and faxing capabilities to standard telephone installations. Cable, telephone, and Ethernet lines can all be used to provide high-speed Internet access. Because each of these technologies are rapidly changing, good facility planning should consider the installation of appropriate conduits for future use (during the construction process), to afford the broadest range of future choices.

Sound & Acoustics (Sound Management)

Sound systems are only as good as the acoustics of a facility. If the primary purpose of a facility is dependant upon the quality and integrity of the sound (stage, concert hall, for instance) a professional acoustical engineer needs to be a key member of the project planning committee.

Facility sound systems can include everything from public address systems that reach every space to the telemetric microphone, often used when leading an aerobics class. High resolution sound is a critical component of good sound systems, especially in the sport and recreation environment. Sound systems need to be designed as much as possible for the space where they will used.

Permanently placed speakers can provide an even sound distribution and more effectively overcome background noise. Finally, some types of spaces are best served with a dedicated sound system, increasing the flexibility and control over both sources and level.

Acoustical treatments should be designed to enhance sound so that it can be heard easily, and absorb sound. Internal acoustical treatments include:

• Use of treated walls and other barriers to control sound

• Air space as an acoustical treatment

• Acoustical clouds suspended over large open spaces to absorb sound

• Extending walls beyond dropped ceilings can afford better acoustical control

External acoustical treatments include:

• Use of baffles or by lining ducts with sound-absorbent, fire-resistant materials

• Ducts can also be connected with canvas or rubberized materials to interrupt the transmission through the metal in the ducts

• Pipes can be covered with pipe covering, and spaces in the pipe sleeves can be filled

• In conventional wall construction, alternate studs can support the sides of the wall in such a manner that there is no through connection from one wall surface to the other (sometimes known as double-wall construction)

• The space inside the walls can be filled with sound-absorbing material to further decrease sound transmission

• Machinery vibration or impact sounds can be reduced by the proper floor covering and/or by installing the machinery on floating or resilient mountings.


Environmental climate controls related to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) affect the quality of our work and play environments.

Sport and recreational facilities must provide an environment where fresh air is exchanged and effectively circulated, where air temperature and humidity are controlled in a manner that promotes good health, and where the air quality is safe.

Goals to achieve in facility design regarding HVAC include:

• Achieving an optimal thermal environment

• Achieving optimal environmental air quality

• Achieving an environmental climate control system that is flexible with regard to energy source and new technologies

The four factors that when combined, give an optimal thermal environment are:

• Radiant temperature where surface and air temperatures are balanced

• Air temperature between 64 and 72 degrees

• Humidity between 40 and 50 percent

• A constant air movement of 20 to 40 liner feet per minute at a sitting height.

Facility ventilation is directly tied to the indoor air quality (IAQ). The IAQ is a product of the quality of the fresh air introduced into the ventilation system and the quality of the existing indoor air that is recycled.

Aspects of humidity and dehumidification are important to maintaining this quality. And, the basics of IAQ seem to minimally require that potential indoor pollutants are controlled at the source and that the building's HVAC system - including all the equipment used to ventilate, heat and cool; the ductwork to deliver air; and the filters to clean air -- are well maintained.

The challenge of HVAC is clearly to increase energy savings without compromising indoor air quality. The technologies of mechanical engineering are constantly changing, requiring facility planners to build in flexibility that will afford future access to new/better ways of managing the facility environmental climate.

The R in Environmental Climate Control stands for Refrigeration. Refrigeration is especially important with regard to cooled environments and especially ice arenas.

A thorough understanding of the ice-making process, e.g., the ammonia brine system (a heat transfer fluid such as ammonia in a refrigeration cycle, cools brine which is then circulated through a network of pipes or tubes below the ice surface), is essential (among other things) when considering such a facility.

This type of winter sports facility is yet another example of a facility that requires an expert consultant as part of the project planning committee.

I hope this has provided a good starting laundry list as you approach design and construction of a new facility, or the renovation of an existing facility.

Next time we'll cover ancillary spaces, storage, facility accessibility and security and safety.

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

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