Perfect Harmony

By Dave Larson
Photos Courtesy Of Laszlo Regos Photography

All too often, facilities are labeled “multi-use” but fall short of delivering that promise. The fault can often lie in planning deficiencies caused by both overly optimistic notions of cooperation, or by cutting corners on amenities.


Needs And Goals
Having a clear knowledge of the individual needs and goals of all stakeholders is essential. There are definitely areas of a building that can be shared, but it is vital that the core areas of use for individual interests remain separate by providing dedicated amenities for each group.

An example of where this arrangement works well is the aquatic center at AlleganHigh School in Allegan, Mich. Allegan is a small community—around 5,000 residents—with a big spirit, but limited financial resources. Before this addition, there were no area indoor pools and, therefore, no year-round swimming opportunities, no swim teams, and no recreational aquatic activities during winter months. Years before the construction of the high school, volunteers had organized a committee to research the development of a community center featuring a major aquatic element. Plans were developed, and cost estimates loomed large. The project ultimately lost momentum due to the inability to fund the community’s dream. Later, when Allegan Public Schools decided to explore improvements to the high school, a community natatorium was suggested as a possibility, if the municipality and school district combined forces to create a joint-use complex.

Design Solutions
Community forums determined a list of desired program amenities. The stage was set and community expectations were high. The solution was to design two separate natatoriums side-by-side and separated by a two-story glass wall. One pool is a 25-yard, eight-lane pool with spectator seating for 300 people. The other pool is a leisure pool featuring shallow water with a zero-depth entry, a kiddy slide, a lazy river, bubblers, and plenty of natural light. Two separate filtration systems were provided to allow for warmer water temperatures in the leisure pool and cooler water in the competition pool. One boiler was designed to heat both pools with water passing through a common heat exchanger and then piped separately to each body of water.

Avoiding Interference
To facilitate the simultaneous use of both pools, the project required the addition of separate community lockers, consisting of men’s, women’s, and a family locker room. The community locker rooms are accessed through a dedicated entrance from the parking lot. This allows high-school pool activities—such as training, physical education, and competition—to take place with no interference or interruption from community users, and vice versa.

When considering various usage scenarios, it is important to visualize the user’s experience from arrival to departure. For example, swimmers have locker rooms for toilet use, changing, and showering. However, spectators and non-swimming visitors need a toilet facility within their use zone of the building. They should not be forced to enter into other use zones, such as the academic areas (in this case, the high school), allowing potential security breaches and possible interference with other programs.

It is also important to consider how the senior population is welcomed to the facility by recognizing their unique needs. Parking

A vibrant atmosphere is created when people can see simultaneous activities occurring, along with unrestricted views to the outdoors.

should be near a barrier-free entrance equipped with automatic door openers.  Benches need to be strategically located to allow rest and recovery. Bathrooms also should be conveniently located to minimize walking distances.

Important for everyone—but especially appropriate for the youngest and oldest users—is the creation of a simple circulation pattern that allows for easy and intuitive navigation of the facility. Reliance on signage is a disappointing substitute to planning an inherently navigable building. When a facility is “transparent” and open, it not only assists visitors with navigation, but also contributes to a welcoming environment that feels safe and is easy to manage with minimal staff.

Multi-Use Elements
Architectural design elements play an important part in the functioning of an inherently multi-use facility. At the high school, a 300-foot-long undulating glass façade creates two separate entries: one for high-school activities and special events, and another for access to the community functions occurring in the leisure pool. The façade also ties the new addition together and “re-brands” the high school as more than an academic institution, but also as the community’s indoor aquatic center. The leisure pool pays homage to the high-school mascot with the application of a large tiger-head tile mural located on the pool bottom’s shallow-water zone.

The wall also maintains functional separation and climate control. At the same time, its transparency also creates an open and welcoming environment. A vibrant atmosphere is created when people can see simultaneous activities occurring, along with unrestricted views to the outdoors.

Operational Efficiencies
Two staff members manage and maintain the pools. One serves as the recreation director who schedules usage, while the other monitors the chemical levels in the pools and supervises daily cleaning and long-term maintenance. Cooperation and communication between personnel is critical for a smooth operation. The athletic staff, faculty, maintenance staff, and community groups all need to be in the communication loop to maintain mutual expectations for use of a shared facility.

A Point Of Pride
The community’s decision to design and build a multi-use facility that truly is multi-use included the commitment to fund the additional critical amenities. The district and community found that the extra dollars invested paid off in a big way with high patron usage, user satisfaction, and community pride. As a rule, the investment costs when incorporated at the onset of the planning process will be significantly lower, and the rewards will outshine the relatively low first cost in capital spending.

From all accounts, the planning and commitment of the community succeeded with a facility that is well-used and well-liked. With the cooperation and collaboration of residents, Allegan was able to go from no indoor aquatic venue to a state-of-the-art facility that is a point of pride and a measurable asset to the community. The project demonstrates that it is possible to maximize hard-earned capital and provide a value to residents. Embraced by the community, the facility experiences a high level of use and is a true destination. It has indeed become an important part of the fabric of this small community with a big heart!

David W. Larson , AIA is Senior Vice President and Director of Design for TMP Architecture, Inc., in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Reach him at .