The Keller Pointe Recreation Center
To say that The Keller Pointe, the new recreation center in Keller, Texas, was a long time coming would be something of an understatement. To start with, the community had to wait more than a decade while a half-cent municipal sales tax dedicated to recreation facilities built up some capital. That's not a fast process with only 14,000 residents, the town's population when current Parks and Recreation Director Dona Roth Kinney arrived in the early 1990s. But as the population grew—it's currently more than 34,000—and interest heightened, the project took shape, and planning could finally begin.
As a first step, before looking at any proposals from architects, Kinney and her staff went back to school.
"These were recreation facility design schools hosted by architectural firms," Kinney explains, including "three to four days of touring numerous facilities and meeting with their staff to see what they would have done differently. This helped us determine what we liked and didn't like, so we weren't going in blind."
This was followed by a six-month study with input from citizen committees, consulting firms and city staff, which produced an enterprise plan—sort of like a business plan—to guide the project toward satisfying as many community needs as possible while controlling enough costs to enable the facility to be self-supporting.
"I think the enterprise plan was the most vital tool in the development process," Kinney says. "There's a tendency for people to ask for everything under the sun in a new facility like this…[and] having that enterprise plan kept everyone very focused and enabled us to meet as many needs as possible but keep the ability to be self-supporting."
As ground-breaking approached, it became clear that the term "self-supporting" could refer to more than just the financial challenges associated with this project.
"A lot of North Texas is sort of a giant silt bed, geologically speaking," says project architect Stephen Springs of Dallas-based Brinkley Sargent Architects, referring to the high clay content in the area's soil. The clay makes the soil prone to upward and downward movement with changes in moisture levels, which can damage a foundation that rests directly in the earth. Instead, in a solution typical in areas with especially moist soils, The Keller Pointe building is supported by piers driven into the soil, which in turn support a layer of concrete called a structural slab. To create the structural slab, the site was graded to the desired contours, pilings were driven, and concrete was poured atop a layer of sacrificial cardboard boxes in order to keep the slab separate from the potentially undulating soil.
One challenge designers and builders faced was that, while a flat structural slab would have been simple enough to create, the slab for the Keller center would need to extend downward in a complicated bowl-like shape in order to form the pool. As with the rest of the slab, the underside of this bowl-like extension could not touch the soil.
"The pool contractor had never had to build a pool this way before," recalls Springs, referring to subcontractor Progressive Commercial Aquatics. "I think it is a real feather in their hat the way it turned out."
Though the structural slab was dictated by the site conditions, there were some advantages as well.
"One benefit of using the slab meant less soil disturbance," Springs says, "so we could save a few more trees closer to the building that way."
This suited Kinney fine, since she is especially proud of the natural surroundings at the site, part of the extensive trail and park system her department has been building up for years and also because she had come away from her "design school" experience struck by the openness and airiness of some of the facilities she toured. Springs' design team achieved this feeling of openness inside The Keller Pointe facility with extensive use of interior windows, while a glass-walled, second-story running track overhangs the side of the building and puts runners and walkers right in the nearby treetops.
Kinney describes community response to the new facility as "overwhelming," pointing out that the center met its first quarter membership goals before opening day. With 3,000 memberships—almost 2,500 of which are family memberships—sold so far, she estimates that she has about 10,000 regular users, and the self-supporting facility is seeing revenues 4 percent higher than predicted.
"When the doors opened on the facility, I think we exceeded the expectations of many," Kinney says. "We went from having no recreation center to having something really exciting."