Community Recreation Centers — Planning for operational efficiency from day-one

Community recreation centers are important to the human experience.

With programs to support social, physical and cultural wellbeing, these neighborhood staples are recognized as intrinsic components of meaningful community life.

Modern center offerings are highly individualized and driven by the unique needs of residents and the local population. Yet, most of these facilities still share a common challenge: how to develop and sustain operational efficiency?

Many recreation centers depend on allocated municipal funds, tax-payer dollars, and program funds to meet operational expenses. Most often, however, this financial model is not sustainable and typically does not generate enough income for significant future growth. Although many factors influence the planning and design of rec centers, establishing a way to develop true operational efficiency is the challenge that many Parks and Recreation Directors face.

Capitalizing on “day-one” opportunities

The most compelling efficiency decisions are strategically made long before the concrete is poured. A project’s conceptual process presents a “day-one” opportunity to identify solutions that can offset future operating expenses, generate revenue, and position recreation centers to have a positive regional impact.

Our recent work with the Town of Kernersville, NC serves as an excellent demonstration of this type of intentional concept phase decision making. After understanding their vision to attract regional economic development and keep up with future recreation needs of the community, the design and operational planning for the Town’s brand-new recreation center immediately commenced.

Thoughtful financial forecasting played a monumental role in helping Kernersville clearly understand the true fiscal impacts that early design decisions would have once their center was up and running. This required a meticulous review of the facility’s square footage and interior spaces to ensure that all appropriated space was best utilized and in-line with efficiency goals. As a result, we incorporated design accommodations that could support flexible programming after-hours.

“As changing lifestyles continue to create a demand for early morning and evening use, center designs that support extended programming can be a great added source of revenue for clients like Kernersville to explore,” said CPL Architect and Project Manager, Rachel Nilson, AIA. “Early on, we worked with the Town to include rentable, multi-purpose space within their facility to enable opportunities for long-term revenue streams.”

The design and programming of the planned multi-purpose spaces incorporated heavy input from a variety of community partners such as the Kernersville Little Theater, Chamber of Commerce, Civitan Club, and others who will utilize the center to provide services to the public.

“Inviting local businesses and organizations into planning discussions to make strategic utilization decisions like this can end up bringing immense value to clients and ultimately enrich their communities for years to come,” added Nilson.

3D Rendering showcases planned “flex-space” in a new community rec center

Nilson is a strong advocate for deliberate “day-one” design making and understands the value that smart financial planning can bring to community-based projects. She sees an architect’s role as a full-service advisor who is responsible and committed to providing the necessary information concerning a facility’s financial impact so that the best design choices can always be made.

“For us, it’s not enough to only know and account for the upfront construction costs,” explained Nilson. “It’s about strategically forecasting all of the future operating expenses and identifying ways to offset them before construction even begins. That level of investment from our team is what sets towns like Kernersville up for long-term success.”

Optimal solutions for operational efficiency can and should be integrated into the design of recreation centers from day-one. Planning ahead and utilizing this early window of opportunity gives communities the ability to implement practical strategies that can keep future operating costs low and revenue streams high—a result that allows for continued, sustainable growth.

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Helen works closely with project managers and Principals in Georgia and the Carolinas on regional marketing efforts. With nearly 20 years of marketing experience in the A/E/C industry, she is responsible for preparing written responses to RFPs/RFQs and facilitating business development efforts. Helen is also an active member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

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