More Building For The Buck

Deerfield Park District residents now can, in a sense, “run with the Bulls.”

A facility -- once used as a practice center for the Chicago Bulls basketball team--is now a recreation center with a wealth of amenities and programming.

The Sachs Recreation Center opened in May in the northern Chicago suburb. It offers several recreational elements district officials and residents had long sought, including gymnasium space and additional walking facilities.

The newly renovated center boasts three gyms: a full-sized gym formerly used by the Bulls, plus two, new, smaller, middle school-sized gyms.

Additional features include an indoor pool, three tennis courts, two racquetball courts, a childcare center, a game room, two weight rooms, a 3,000-square-foot exercise and fitness area, a four-lane indoor track, a cafe/food service area, rental space for parties and events, programming space, steam rooms, a sauna and two whirlpools. And pampering is next; in summer, district officials were ironing out details with a vendor to provide spa services, including massages, manicures and pedicures, beginning in the fall.

Gains And Losses

Wheaton, Ill.-based PHN Architects, which specializes in the design of recreational facilities, oversaw the renovation of and addition to the center.

As is frequently the case with renovating existing structures, the project morphed from a relatively straightforward plan to clean the facility, bring it up to code, and add the two smaller gyms to a substantially more complex remodeling project, with unexpected challenges along the way.

But working through the complications led to a more polished facility that serves the district’s short- and long-term needs, said PHN’s Gary Pingel, project manager.

And reaction has been positive. Within three months of opening--and during the time of year when many fitness buffs head outdoors--nearly 700 people had signed up for memberships. “Residents love it,” says Deerfield Park District Director Linda Gryziecki.

Opening the center fulfills two long-held desires of district residents and officials--more gymnasium space and additional places for walkers to hit the trails. The new rec center also provides district residents with a public fitness facility for the first time, with plenty of cardio and weight equipment, and additional pool time for the highly ranked Coho Swim Club.

“For decades we had agreements with the school districts in our area to use their gym facilities for free, in return for grounds maintenance,” says Gryziecki. “Typically we own the land around the schools, and they own the building and footprint. It’s worked wonderfully.”

But in recent years four elementary schools closed along with those gyms. She adds, “We’ve always had a gymnasium in our long-range plan.”

The Long And Short

The path to ownership and the remodeled facility was not necessarily a smooth one.

Besides being the practice home for the Bulls, the former Multiplex also was a health club that had closed several years ago. The facility then was split into two portions, with two separate owners, one of whom approached Deerfield in 2006 with a rental offer.

“We turned that down, but we told the owner we’d be interested in purchasing the center,” Gryziecki says.

Two years later, both owners were willing to sell, and Deerfield bought the building, now more than 25 years old.

At approximately 100,000 square feet, the former Multiplex is larger than what officials had envisioned.

“We weighed the cost and benefits of building a gym, compared to purchasing the Multiplex and renovating it,” says Gryziecki. Deerfield had hoped to build a facility of approximately 33,000 square feet, with two middle school-sized gyms and multi-purpose space. “That would have cost $10.2 million, including site improvements. We spent under $11 million and got so much more,” Gryziecki says.

Not only can the district now offer a wider range of programs and amenities, it also has room to grow.

“The new center provides tremendous opportunities for us for the future,” Gryziecki says. “We have a lot of programming options we didn’t have before, including those that aren’t health- and fitness-related. We have a chance to offer all kinds of new classes. It’s exciting.” One new offering is a before- and after-kindergarten program that started in the fall.

The remodeled facility is not perfect, Gryziecki acknowledges, pointing out the 20-plus-year-old lap pool isn’t as long or as deep as the district would have built on its own. “But we got what we got. And we’ll do a lot with this.”

Ups And Downs

PHN and Deerfield faced many unexpected obstacles in renovating the facility. Intending only to bring the building up to code and into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the unexpected changed the game plan.

“When you buy a used building--and in this case one owned by two private individuals--you get a lot of costs you didn’t necessarily expect to have. It’s just like remodeling your kitchen. One thing leads to another,” Gryziecki says.”

For example, extensive water damage developed while the building sat vacant for more than a year, says PHN’s Isela Catania, project coordinator and designer, so resolving code issues required more work than had been anticipated. The servicing fire department had its stipulations and demands to be satisfied. And no original blueprints could be found.

“Everything was a challenge,” Catania says. “Every day, we would discover various spaces that had been poorly built and that desperately needed to be repaired. We would begin to clean up an area and tried to work with existing finishes to keep the costs down. But then, unfortunately, with time we realized it would be better to gut the space and redo the entire item from scratch, with new finishes.”

In the end, she says, the difficulties worked to the district’s advantage.

“The project went from cleaning up the space and making minor changes while working with existing finishes and materials, to a full-blown gut-and-remodel project,” she says.

And challenges became pluses. For example, Gryziecki took a look at the black-and-white color scheme of the existing cafe. The end result was a cafeteria with a fun, retro 1950s look--and the original flooring.

“We did a lot of updating to the finishes and furnishings,” Catania says. “It’s a more polished facility.”

Deerfield residents have been using the new facility since May. Fitness membership sales are good, and Gryziecki says opening in the spring permitted the staff to hone its skills before the busier fall and winter seasons. “It really worked out well,” she says.

“We’re very happy with the community response and input. People are excited and enthusiastic,” she added. “And we’re excited about the opportunities we have now.”

Beth Bales is a writer associated with PHN Architects, an award-winning architectural firm that specializes in the design of recreational facilities, including aquatic centers, recreational centers and golf course clubhouses. Her story, “Off-Season Greens,” on ways to increase revenues at park- and forest preserve district-owned golf course facilities during the off-season, received Illinois Parks & Recreation’s award for “Best Facilities Management Article” for 2003. She lives in Geneva, Ill., a western-Chicago suburb, and may be reached at (630) 232-7912.