Racquetball courts have been a hot topic in trending renovations.
In fact, the University of Cincinnati is seeing its second renovation of the courts in the past 20 years. While the first was to prepare for the building of the Campus Recreation Center (CRC), this next renovation is simply converting them into more fitness space.
But, the courts aren’t the only spaces causing a racket in the world of renovations. Bill Massey, a principal at Sasaki, said the biggest trend is the number of renovations has increased. “Many institutions are trying to make the most of what they have and are therefore considering renovations and additions versus the construction of a brand-new facility,” said Massey.
In terms of specific trends, Massey has noticed the need for open space, and higher ceilings for functional fitness and Olympic platforms. Underutilized racquetball courts come into play here, offering two-story spaces perfect for meeting those needs in creative ways.
On top of racquetball court renovations, Kim Schmidt, the director of Campus Recreation at the University of Cincinnati, said they also repurposed a portion of their lobby into a 30-minute workout area, which opened in early 2020. Located just yards from the member services desk, Schmidt explained it offers individuals a way to get in, do an efficient and full-body workout, and leave. Inside the space, there’s a room to change and storage cubbies. All fitness levels can use this area, and there are even a few walking desks just in case you really can’t get away from work.
“Some exercise is better than no exercise,” said Schmidt. “Last year, we began really focusing on identifying and reducing barriers that cause individuals not to use workout facilities. We hope this area is another step in the right direction.”
In the opinion of Janet Jordan, the senior recreation planner at Moody Nolan, identifying and focusing on what students want and need is how rec centers should decide on what renovations to pursue. For example, she shared Purdue Northwest’s renovation in 2018-2019 included new flooring, changing placement of selectorize and athletic conditioning equipment, a repurposed racquetball court, and reorganizing the check-in process. And it all came about from student surveys, participation numbers and use of specific spaces.
“Decisions about trends need to come from multiple sources — professional staff, students and faculty, depending on the end user group,” said Jordan.
But while your renovations need to reflect current trends, Massey said they also need to focus on the future. Trends change, so designing for flexibility and adaptability is a must, as is having a great infrastructure and well-connected facility when it comes to technology. “One question a recreation department should be asking their designers is, ‘How can this space change in 10 years when a new trend comes along?’” said Massey. “Departments should also be asking for designers to consider ways a single space can be used in multiple ways. For example, by providing the right finishes, lighting, acoustics, storage and infrastructure, a group exercise room can easily convert to a classroom or a meeting room.”
While you need to avoid fads — Jordan’s words of “don’t invest in goats” ring true — there are resources out there to help you predict what trends might just stick. Schmidt recommended taking a peek at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Top 20 Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020. It can help determine what to do with underutilized areas in facilities, which seems to be the current priority in the industry.
One final renovation trend Massey suggested campus rec centers avoid is patchwork upgrades. Consistency of the space is key, keeping the design exciting and students eager to explore your space. Because ultimately, your space is what will remain.
“Trends will come and go, but a welcoming facility that actively engages its users will stand the test of time,” said Massey.