GOOD TO BE BADLANDS
West River Community Center
The idea for a community center in Dickinson, N.D., had been batted around for more than 30 years. Action always stalled, though, because the plan never quite garnered the cooperation of all the relevant people at one time.
That is, until 2001, when that long-dreamed-of community center finally came to fruition because of the remarkable community involvement, support and commitment to the project.
"I think it succeeded this time because the driving push behind it was a group of local citizens, rather than government officials or the park district or the schools or any one entity," explains James Kramer, director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation District. "Everybody was on board and working together."
The project had state significance as well.
"This community center was going to be one of the largest construction projects in North Dakota," says Brian Beckler, principal and project designer at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative (OLC) in Denver. It would serve as a model for future construction, so the goal was to create a building that truly reflects the community and the entire region.
To achieve that, OLC solicited input from thousands of Dickinson residents and held dozens of focus groups. They spoke on the radio, evaluated commentary and feedback, met with local business leaders on the project, and listened to the desires and hopes of the enthusiastic Dickinson community. Besides integrating the park district's existing ice rink, the design options were wide open, but one thing was clear: This center needed a huge 'wow' factor both inside and out, not just undefined warehouse space.
"We wanted it to be a focal point of the community and something we could take pride in," Kramer says. Much of the inspiration came from the nearby Badlands of North Dakota.
"The rock formations and landscape of the Badlands have a very distinct look and texture," Beckler explains. "We wanted to emulate the color palette and richness of the area to create something interesting but also familiar."
Burnt orange, red, burgundy and black from the banded Badlands geography highlight the exterior, while building forms and rooflines take their shapes from the surrounding agricultural and farming architecture.
"Inside the center, we wanted to create an experience the community has never seen before," Beckler says. Being situated on a slight plateau gave the architects the opportunity to create a literal beacon for the community. A two-story, tinted-green-glass entryway, lit up from the inside, can be seen day or night.
"The lighted clerestory calls to the community, inviting people in," Beckler says.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a warm living room with soft seating, a two-story fireplace, TV and creative tile pattern that recognizes the state's Native American heritage. Color tones and materials reflect the area's green grasses and the natural colors of the rugged hills, sandstone and prairie. With a nod to North Dakota's prehistoric existence, the large climbing wall features a custom-designed dinosaur-size vertebrae twisting upward.
From atop the climbing wall, visitors can see a variety of activities including right into the multi-activity court (MAC).
"This MAC court was designed and located to be as multifunctional as possible," Beckler explains. The specialized floor gets action from basketball tournaments, indoor soccer, roller hockey, an inline skating program, even school dances.
Other key aspects of the 77,000-square-foot facility are the elevated walking track, the fitness and cardio areas, and the competitive and leisure indoor pool areas.
"Indoor recreation is something we desperately need because of the weather here," Kramer explains. "The indoor pool was one of the driving forces."
The activity pool includes a lazy river, whirlpool, sprays and geysers. Two slides run from inside to out.
"We created as much value of the indoor space as possible, while giving the exterior an unique and exciting view," Beckler says. Balancing the budgets of two pools was tricky, but it has been a huge success.
Not only did the Dickinson residents support the construction of this center, they continue to support it. In fact, the facility has been more successful than anyone imagined.
"To meet financial projections, the facility had to sell 1,700 memberships in 12 months, and of those, only 60 percent had to be full time," Beckler says. "Within four days of the grand opening, they sold 4,000 full-time memberships."
Today, a third of the 17,000 people in Dickinson belong to the center, and there are already plans in the works for an expansion.