WELLNESS IN WYOMING
Laramie Community Recreation Center
It took more than 20 years to complete, but the new Laramie Recreation Center was worth the wait. The community first considered building the facility in 1982, but voters twice rejected the proposal. A third time proved the charm, and the city began plans for a 62,400-square-foot fitness club that embraces the uniqueness of the Wyoming prairie.
The design pays tribute to the striking and dipping plains found in the surrounding landscape. Rustic, earthy, concrete block and stone masonry provide a solid, natural base that appears to rise up out of the ground. Inside the building, tinted glass windows reflect the dramatic colors of the bright blue sky and the rich red rock.
Architect Bob McDonald, with Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative in Denver, opted to buck tradition and create a south-facing curtain wall. Though most buildings install the window on the north side, McDonald chose to place it on the south end to capture the bright sunlight that shines 300 days a year in Wyoming. Hanging banners and the facility's geometry reflect the light to minimize the glare and allow it to fall softly into the center.
"That direct, bright, brilliant sunshine is one of the qualities of life in Wyoming, even in the dead of winter," McDonald says.
If the building seems an affectionate tribute to the state's southern landscape, there's a good reason. McDonald grew up in Laramie and used the wind-swept plains as inspiration in his design, spurring him to create a facility where all this sunshine pours into even the deepest interior spaces.
"There's 300 days of bright blue skies in Laramie, even when the wind is blowing 100 miles per hour," he says. "It gave us a visual to use."
Residents, in turn, have embraced the facility. The club already has doubled its membership expectations and averages 494 visitors each day.
"It's a very open design and user-friendly," says Paul Harrison, Laramie's parks and recreation director. "You can be in almost any area and see what's going on in other areas."
The success reflects the benefits of community participation, Harrison says. A citizen's advisory group met more than 90 times during an 18-month period and helped make decisions on all facets of the facility. As such, several previously underserved populations of Laramie—including seniors, teens and families with children—now have recreational opportunities. Local swimmers also have a long-awaited pool. The eight-lane, 25-yard competitive pool originally was planned to be added long after the center opened because of funding concerns. The area's competitive swimmers, however, couldn't wait and banded together to raise funds so the pool could be built concurrently with the recreation facility.
The center now holds major state swim meets. The facility easily handles the competitions without adversely affecting its members. During a recent event, Laramie hosted more than 560 swimmers and an additional 1,200 parents without having to close the leisure pool, fitness area or indoor track.
The facility's flexibility is just another reason why Laramie residents have embraced their long-awaited recreation center.
"They are the most important judges," Harrison says. "The community reaction has been outstanding."