Ensuring Value From Recreation Facility Upgrades


From creating more opportunities for health and well-being to increasing student enrollment, studies have shown student recreation environments have a positive, measurable impact on campuses. If considering an improvement to your recreation facility, it is important to provide value both financially and to the overall student experience in order to prove a worthwhile investment. Consider the following to help guarantee the return on investment of your renovation, addition or new construction project.   

Start with a Plan 

Beyond an assessment of immediate needs, it is important to recognize the needs of campus for the next 20-plus years and consider a recreation masterplan. Failing to think long-term may prevent or disrupt future projects as designing for only current realities may not accommodate changes in your enrollment, student interests and new programs. By taking this approach, you can ensure a holistic design that will not only address today’s needs but provide a roadmap for the future. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s masterplan included a comprehensive evaluation of current and future needs which resulted in a multi-year, multi-phased expansion of athletic and recreation facilities to accommodate continued growth. 

Showcase Wellness 

The initial interaction with recreation facilities can create memorable experiencesInstead of putting high energy spaces such as fitness centers, gymnasiums or pools behind closed doors or at the end of corridors, try to prominently display them to market your full range of wellness options. While using glass is a proven technique, also
consider physically opening these areas to public spaces. Advances in acoustic control have literally opened up new opportunities in recreation centers. At Ripon College’s Willmore Centerthe design places the strength center completely open to the entry to showcase the center’s energy and activity to everyone who enters. This area has become one of the most memorable spaces in the new facility and proven to be invaluable to recruiting and enrollment.  

Celebrate Brand and History 

No matter the size of your projectseek ways to integrate your rec program’s brand and history through environmental branding. This helps reinforce the overall pride and engagement of all facility guests. Branding also provides an opportunity to achieve a dramatic change with minimal cost. At Carroll University’s Van Male Fieldhouse, a renovation project integrated graphics throughout to celebrate the rich history of the various programs as well as enhance the campus brand. 

Leverage Technology  

Several technology tools can help you visualize what upgrades might look like when completed. Virtual realitallowrecreation departments to be fully immersed in the design, understanding the concept more quickly than analyzing lines on paper. Design modifications and iterations can then be done and seen real-time, empowering the entire design committee to make confident decisions about how spaces will look and functionAdditionally, tools like virtual reality and augmented reality are easily shared, allowing the campuses to let colleagues, students and potential donors experience the future building which garners support, builds consensus and can help achieve fundraising goals.  


Adam Bastjan, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is an associate principal at architecture and design firm Kahler Slater, working with the firm’s sports and recreation team. For more information, email  abastjan@kahlerslater.com.

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