• Gina Pujolas

Trends for Recreation Facility Design: Early Involvement from an Engineer = Positive Impacts

Updated: Mar 18

Athletic facilities in higher education are curating open facility spaces to be more functional for student athletes who balance a regular schedule on top of performing as an athlete. University organizations are prioritizing and committing more and more to support their athletes by providing them with multi-use and functional exercise spaces to aid them in balancing their practice and performance.


Having worked on many of these projects previously, Tec Inc. engineers accumulated experience designing and engineering athletic facilities for higher education, throughout Ohio and surrounding areas over the past 40 years. Though we have a base of expertise in these unique spaces, we constantly search for new trends, energy efficient updates, the latest requirements of design, and unique facility equipment to maximize the use of these spaces.


Design and Equipment Features to Consider


Athletic facility work may include renovating a fieldhouse, locker room/ bathroom areas, student study areas, warm-up and open floor exercise spaces, and more. To allow students to maximize use of multi-functional spaces, our goal is to find unique features that can be included in engineering design that will allow years of functional use, and perhaps flexible change in the future.


A few changes that facility owners may recognize because of the COVID-19 Pandemic are that more people will or may already have sensitivities to public spaces, large crowds, and public interaction. Athletic facilities that offer concessions or have areas where public crowds come to watch athletes perform should consider going cashless, offering grab-and-go options, spacing out seats with dividers or other equipment. These precautions must be thought out prior to designing your space.


Various features to be considered in facility design may include:


Flexible Space: Room for expansion/ multi-sport adaptation is important in an athletic facility. Utilizing the large floor-to-height area can allow a lot of room for change for future expansion. Including various open studio spaces or field spaces can provide additional, adaptable space for other uses. In addition to other fitness spaces, multi-use of the facility for concerts, large events or performances that thousands of people can attend should also be considered to make more use of the flexible space.

Surveillance Security: Security cameras and surveillance are important in any facility, but especially one that contains high-quality equipment and multiple spaces for various uses. Having surveillance and security technology implemented into the facility will ensure safety for anyone entering the facility. Using motion-censored lights or other censored features are another form of security in large facilities.


Electrically Operated Curtains: Automatic netting or curtains are a design element that is becoming more popular in athletic facilities today. There are portable room dividers that can easily be manually moved into a large space that will separate a larger room into two or more private spaces for other practical uses.


If an institution is interested in installing electronic curtains, while more expensive, this can provide flexibility and multiple uses for the same space. Many gymnasiums now include various types of electronically operated and ceiling suspended equipment like basketball backstops, volleyball systems, wrestling mat lifters, scoreboard lifts, etc. The control systems for this equipment have advanced into touchscreen pads and other portable devices to allow for quicker transitions and efficient set-up for those using the space.


Netting: Automatically unfolding / retracting nets for for gymnasium floor spaces can transform a large area into a court or field with ease. Implementing nets that fold up and retract allows the game space to be adjusted quickly to fit any sport’s needs.


*These can include curtains and netting, basketball hoops, volleyball standards, batting cages, nets and other various sport equipment.


When it comes to room dividers used in gymnasiums, there are mesh curtains and hard surface partitions. The mesh curtains allow airflow to be evenly distributed throughout the space while the hard partitions stand floor to ceiling, separating the airflow between the spaces. In this particular case, the gym may be zoned by our engineers as two different zones.


Some engineering requirements to consider prior to installing dividers or netting are the available clearance space between the equipment and the ceiling, space for the continuous shaft for curtain balance and load distribution, and proper HVAC ductwork.


Sustainability and Sanitizing Elements to Consider


Following the COVID-19 Pandemic, higher education facilities and athletic facilities both have implemented stronger and more consistent cleaning regimens. Making everyone who enters the facility feel safe should be a priority.


There are various design elements that allow us to harness energy and light in different ways and can transform a regular building to one that is sustainable and impactful on the environment in a positive way. With the pandemic still in mind, higher education facilities everywhere have attained sanitization practices to ensure a safe environment to protect students and staff from exposure and contact. New methods and practices have been established for athletic facilities that should be implemented prior to daily use.

One product that is used in the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio is the Orbio 5000-ScOn-Site Cleaning Solution Generator. This product is eco-friendly and is made to sanitize stainless steel, glass, carpet, and any other hard surfaces in the facility. The product reduces the need for commonly used chemical-filled products by producing ionized water cleaner that reverts to normal water after use. Plumbing engineers would need to plan for the installation and location of these systems to allow for proper water supply, pressure and drainage.


Another line of products that are beneficial for purifying air within large athletic facilities are the Atmos Air commercial systems. This brand has various air purification systems that can be directly installed into the HVAC system or is also able to custom make a system that is specifically designed for your facility. Atmos Air systems use bipolar ionization to remove viruses from the air and disinfect surfaces in a treated area. Again, the mechanical engineers can plan for the requirements of this equipment if notified early in the project design to avoid any redesign or delays.


Making the Facility Stand Out


An accreditation that can make your facility stand out among others is the GBAC STAR Accreditation Program that is designed to help facilities establish a routine-based method of sanitization, disinfection, and disease prevention for those who utilize the facility. The program delves into best-practices, training, and best protocols to follow when it comes to cleaning practices.


This accreditation should be highly considered by anyone who is looking to obtain LEED certification for an athletic facility and implement eco-friendly practices and protocols. This accreditation specifically means that a facility has:

  • Established and maintained a regimen for cleaning & disinfecting

  • Attained proper cleaning protocols, techniques, and work practices to combat infectious diseases

  • Utilize highly informed cleaning professionals who are trained for outbreak and infectious disease preparation/ response (https://gbac.issa.com/)

Contact Our Team for More Information


Unique features of athletic facilities can allow more freedom and opportunity to use the space. To find out what is best for your space, ask the users of the facility how they feel about the sanitization, functionality or other aspects of the facility. The focus on user experience will make it easier to provide what is wanted in the space, and what makes them feel safe too.

If you have an athletic facility project that needs an experienced MEP team, contact Tec Inc today. We’ll happily offer insight on making your facility sustainable, eco-friendly, and full of updated design elements to make it stand out for years of use.

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