Renovations, big and small, are the trend in the industry. And there’s a lot you need to know in order to make them successful.
The first step is understanding the why behind renovations. Salavatore J. Canciello, a principal at S3 Design Inc., explained rec centers need to pinpoint their motivation for the improvements they are looking to make.
“Is the driver improving the first impression to impact student recruitment, or improving the quality of the student experience to increase student retention?” asked Canciello. “Understanding the primary motivation will influence if the renovation focuses on adding program offerings that are lacking, or expanding existing offerings that are over capacity.”
At Bellarmine University, the motivation for its 2018 renovation of the Sport, Recreation and Fitness Center (SuRF Center) lobby was to create a more beautiful rec center. Clare Dever, the director of campus recreation, put together a wish list with the student government association for the $128,000 renovation. Some of the updates included replacing lights with LED panel lights; painting; replacing the lobby furniture; new carpet; adding school logos; and the addition of the Wall of Champions. Plus, they were able to make renovations to the basketball courts, add a new coat of paint and artwork in the locker rooms, and add a new label to the front entrance of the SuRF Center.
In order to make this renovation successful, Dever had to manage meetings, emails and side conversations, as well as install dates — that were dependent on other projects — and her typical everyday responsibilities.
With a lot going on, she noted one must be aware the process is complex. But so is the budget. “My advice to stay within budget is to build in a little wiggle room, gather several quotes and visit your budget every time you either consider or make a decision that could impact it,” she said.
Canciello said to tell your architect if there is a budget limit. They can then let you know if something can’t be achieved from the get-go. “Resist the urge to add things to the design to ‘see what they would cost,’” he said. “Better to understand the bad news early and come to terms with priorities to make the project real and manage expectations.”
Temple University recently had a 33,000-square-foot renovation of its Independence Blue Cross Student Recreation Center (IBC). John Doman, the director of campus recreation, noted the details of the project: reconfiguring control and entry points; complete renovation of the locker rooms, restrooms and adding two gender inclusive restrooms with showers; new lighting, flooring and stereo system; HVAC upgrade; fitness equipment; and a reconfiguration of facility walls to gain more activity space for fitness programming.
While meeting weekly to manage the budget was helpful, Doman said planning for setbacks and delays is a must. “Utilize all of your resources to create alternate plans in these situations,” he said. “I have learned no detail is too small. The most minute element can cost time and money to a renovation project.”
Canciello said he sees the greatest success in campus recreation renovations when rec programs simply understand what they do well. Start with your core competencies and what will lead to the biggest impact for your students. And resist trying to provide every new, trendy thing.
And most importantly, Canciello said think about flow. “While having the proper activity space is important, having a clear and logical sequence connecting them can have a bigger impact on the user experience and success of the renovation than most people realize,” he said.
When it comes to challenges of the project, Dever had two big ones. First, since she had never led a project of this magnitude before, at its start she didn’t have a clear to-do list. This required patience with execution.
Second, Dever said there were a lot of people who had a voice in the decision making. “What I also realized was different types of people make different types of decisions,” she explained. “For example, students can decide on the furniture proposal, but administration will decide the branding in the facility. It wasn’t me making all the decisions, which was good. I was the person that needed to keep track of the details and keep the renovation going. Once I understood my role, I was more effective, and I took the pressure off that I had put onto myself.”
But as the director, Doman said you must be at the table for all decisions of the project. “As an advocate for the end users of the facility, you need to be involved with every detail so important items are not overlooked,” he noted. “A decision that may seem small at the time can derail the success of a project and cost more money to fix in the long run.”
In the end, renovations come down to meeting the needs of your students. Dever said to make all of your decisions in a renovation with the students in mind, and you’ll find success at its conclusion.
“Build a relationship with students and they’ll be your biggest champion,” Dever advised. “We impact students’ experiences more than we realize, so do your best and they’ll be successful.”
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