A Healthy Partnership

The growing emphasis on maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit has led to a shift in programming provided by many park and recreation agencies. In an effort to address these needs and still maintain a responsible budget, park and recreation leaders may consider partnering with healthcare providers.

The Buddy System

When the Glenview Park District began planning its recreation center, they selected a former military base for the site. Although the 168,000-square-foot facility incorporated many recreation and aquatic programming options, the park district sought to further increase its offerings by including services from a local healthcare entity.

The partnership allowed the healthcare provider to lease 10,000 square feet of space for use as a wellness center, which included private offices, exam rooms, a fitness assessment room and a nutrition shop; the center was to be used in combination with the park district’s whirlpool, lap pool, warm-water therapy pool and weight areas for physical therapy and rehabilitation treatments. By renting the space, the park district also received an added benefit in earning additional income to fund other programming needs.

When the city of Elgin, Ill. Parks and Recreation Department began planning for the Centre of Elgin Community Recreation Center, the goal was to provide a comprehensive schedule of programs that addressed the needs of residents, while also being cost efficient. Through an agreement with a local hospital, a wellness center was created within the recreation center. The arrangement between these two entities resulted in the long-term lease of a 12,000-square-foot wellness space within the center, which provides physical-therapy activities.

In both instances, park and recreation leaders were able to work with private healthcare entities to produce facilities that met programming needs while also promoting healthy-living awareness. An added benefit was the ability to turn both partnerships into a revenue-generating opportunity for their programs. Additionally, many park and recreation agencies have seen an increase in membership when partnerships are formed. Patients that arrive for treatment are able to experience the wealth of offerings a recreation center possesses, and many decide to become a member of the facility.

Is A Healthcare Partner Right For Your Project?

Collaborating with an outside entity may sound like an easy solution to provide additional revenue and programming based on these examples, but there are other factors and issues that must be considered before approaching a healthcare entity.

Before looking for a partner, park and recreation leadership must first determine space and program needs. Once this is done, a clearer picture should begin to emerge concerning the space required to accomplish the planned objectives.

Also, consider the objectives in seeking a partner. How much space is available for use outside of the shared amenities? Is your organization willing to take on the responsibilities as a landlord? Will the selection of one partner over another cause any political issues? Well-crafted agreements, creative/functional design, as well as flexible space design are options to help address these questions.

Avoid A Losing Situation

In a project that Williams Architects was affiliated with in Indiana, an issue arose when several private healthcare providers approached the local park and recreation leaders to partner with them on a new recreation facility. As there were multiple healthcare entities who were interested in joining the project, city officials recognized there would be political controversy with various interests taking sides.

As the project progressed, it soon became evident that no matter which group was selected, there would be long lingering resentment from those organizations that were not selected and their supporters. As a result, the park and recreation agency determined that their best course of action would be to not partner with anyone and instead complete the project on their own. While the loss of possible revenue and the positive atmosphere a partnership would have created was a disappointment, the ability to avoid possible political backlash was viewed as a more pressing concern.

A similar situation arose while planning the center for the city of Elgin. In this instance, two competing healthcare providers approached the city and expressed an interest in partnering with them on the project. After numerous conversations, one healthcare provider was willing to step aside and allow the other provider to proceed with the city. If careful and open communication had not been maintained, both parties could have walked away and the city could have lost the opportunity.

In the end, the overriding goal of both parties is to serve the public, which ultimately results in the residents being the winners.

Tom Poulos , AIA, is a registered architect and a principal with Williams Architects Ltd., Carol Stream, Ill., a leader in recreation facility design in the Midwest. During his career serving public recreation agencies, Tom has worked on a variety of community and recreation center projects. He may be reached via e-mail at tcpoulos@williams-architects.com