REC WITH A VIEW
Grandview Community Center
The director of the new Grandview Community Center has been noticing something about local residents' reaction to the recently opened facility.
"Someone from the community walks in for the first time, and their eyes get wide," says Janis Steele, director of operations for the Grandview Department of Parks and Recreation. "They had no idea that we were building something this beautiful."
The residents' reaction is understandable. The 60,000-square-foot facility is located in the city's largest park, and designers took great care to match the new building to its surroundings, which include a grove of trees to the north and open prairie to the south.
"Throughout the building, they tried to bring the outside inside," explains Steele, referring to the five-person design team from architectural firms Ankeny Kell Architects (the design architects) in St. Paul, Minn., and Gould Evans Goodman Associates (the architect of record) in Kansas City, Mo., that worked on the project. This effort included extensive use of windows as well as leaf-patterned "light monitors," or high windows, along the facility's central corridor to give the effect of walking through a stand of trees in the heart of the building.
"The trees really influenced the design," says Mark Wentzell, the Ankeny Kell architect who was design principal on the project. "We wanted a very open feeling."
Mission accomplished, according to Steele.
"[The design team] really used the landscape of the park," she says. "From every room in the building, there's a beautiful view."
Situated on a hillside, the center is one story tall at one end and two stories tall where the elevation falls away, a design that maximized space while presenting a low profile to the residential neighborhood adjacent to the one-story side.
"We wanted to pay attention to our neighbors and not impose on them with some big monstrosity," Steele says.
Far from a monstrosity, the resulting structure is not only graceful but capacious, offering activities for every imaginable member of the community. Recreation resources include an aquatic center, gymnasium with indoor basketball courts, and a fitness area offering weightlifting and cardiovascular machines. In addition, the facility has meeting rooms and a multipurpose banquet space that can be rented for weddings and other special occasions.
"We were after a design that encouraged community gathering, that was a symbol of gathering," Wentzell says. "Often a rec center like this one is the center of the community."
So exactly how does a small town, working on a limited budget and struggling to maintain its identity and positive self-image amidst the sprawl of the larger Kansas City metropolitan area, end up with what Steele calls "a jewel of a building"?
Wentzell and Steele both credit a highly collaborative design process, in which designers and community stakeholders—including department of parks and recreation employees, city councilmembers, and park board members—gathered for four focused workdays in a nearby school building as the project was first getting started. The days were reserved for design work, while every night the group gathered for dinner and discussed both the latest developments and possible new directions.
"We spent quite a lot of time with the staff that would be running the building, discussing how the building would operate, so that they would be sure that the building would operate for them," Wentzell says.
It's a process that seemed to work well, Steele adds.
"Our goal was to provide something really special for the community, from babies to seniors, from any cultural background," she explains. "Our membership reached 8,500 this year, which is a lot in a community of 26,000. That tells me we really did what we were trying to do."