Trends come and go without warning sometimes, a lesson learned across the industry over the past couple of years.
As such, Scott Harper, the director of Campus Recreation at Auburn University, said some of the best advice he can give is to plan yet remain flexible. “At Auburn, we have a mindset of, ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,’” he said. “There is no way we can know the future. However, with enough brainstorming, preparation and documentation, we can at least have a solid framework to use to adjust on the fly.”
However, as 2022 nears, Harper is looking ahead to find facility development trends along with the rest of the industry. Taking a deeper dive into five specific categories, here’s what he and other campus rec professionals see as trending now, keeping in mind anything can change:
Jeff Straw, the associate director of Facilities and Membership Services at the University of Michigan, said he’s noticed one-use disposable disinfectant wipes have become more expected from users than spray bottles and towels.
He also shared the evaluation and upgrade of ventilation systems is something coming down the pipeline to ensure better air circulation.
What both Straw and Harper agreed on was electrostatic sprayers will be a bigger investment across the board. “Schools are now more heavily investing in the latest and greatest equipment and resources to make things easier for their staff,” said Harper. “The equipment and resources continue to improve. But, the seriousness campus recreation staff place on cleaning efforts have and will remain top notch.”
Casey Gilvin, the fitness director at the University of Kentucky, said a trend he’s been seeing is the incorporation of features found in performance facilities into rec centers. For example, indoor and outdoor turf areas are growing in popularity due to heightened fitness and training options. “This has been going on for some time, but we are seeing this more and more in traditional rec facilities,” he said.
Auburn uses MONDO Sport and Flooring rubber athletic floors, except for the wood flooring on the courts and in the group fitness rooms. “Having the rubber floors throughout the entire facility gives members the impression they can use nearly every area of the facility as their own personal workout space, which is the experience we were hoping to provide,” said Harper.
Resilient sport flooring installed in cardio/weight areas that have a subbase is another trend Straw has been noticing. This allows weights to be dropped throughout the entire space. It also provides greater flexibility for equipment layout and use of the space.
Straw also shared a tip when it comes to weights and flooring. “Building platforms directly into the floor can save on additional equipment cost of not having to purchase platforms that sit on top of your fitness floor while also reducing tripping hazards,” he said.
Individual-style showers and private changing areas are in, but are students using them?
At the University of Michigan, Straw said they have seen a decrease in the number of users. “Therefore, during our renovations we were able to reduce the amount of individual showers to better utilize this square footage in the building for other needs while still providing enough showers to accommodate our current demand,” he said.
Gender inclusive locker rooms is also a growing trend, but this doesn’t just mean single-use restrooms and locker rooms. “For example, design a locker room that provides single use showers, toilets and changing areas, but then has common sinks and lockers that are shared by all users regardless of which gender they identify with,” said Straw.
Harper agreed there seems to be a decline of usage in the industry of locker rooms overall. However, he noted all three sets in Auburn’s facility see high usage. And that didn’t change with the shut down.
“Considering we didn’t hear a lot of complaints from members about lack of shower access or the ability to sell lockers to new users, I anticipated the number of locker room users would decrease, but that was not the case,” he said. “Our locker rooms have sold out and we have a waiting list for some areas.”
As Harper noted, every school is different and locker room trends definitely depend on the users of your facility.
Turnstiles are trending. Harper said with more reliable options, more schools are considering implementing them.
Another renovation trend Straw has noticed is the open floor plan and natural light component found in many new facilities. The larger areas provide enough space for popular cross-training type activities while accommodating a variety of other equipment.
Finally, racquet sports are still seeing a decline. “‘Right sizing’ the number of courts you have for those activities is important in order to best utilize the square footage you have for your highest use activities and needs,” said Straw.
Harper said it best: technology changes fast. What he has noticed is tech depends on the user’s desire. For example, he finds most students bring in their own technology for working out — i.e. devices for music, TV, tracking data, etc. However, non-students want the technology to be in the facility when they arrive. “Fully understanding the wants and needs of your primary users could save you a lot of needless spending or make you have to increase your budget accordingly,” he said.
And that need could look like an “Amazon” experience as Straw put it. He explained it allows for users to sign up, check capacity, purchase services, etc. all before entering the facility. “Using technology to allow for contactless check-in through apps, barcodes and biometric scanners will start to become the new normal,” said Straw.
COVID-19 brought a lot of changes. But as Gilvin shared, some changes are going to stick and trend further, as seen above.
So, it’s planning ahead while also planning to be flexible. That’s how you stay on top of facility development trends. “Think strategically,” said Gilvin. “Define a process with solid action steps. Be willing to adjust as the current situation dictates it.”