Doing Community Service
Vaughan Athletic Center
After eight years of pulse-taking, polling and planning, the community efforts of the northwestern area of the Fox Valley Park District in suburban Illinois are proof-positive that patience is a virtue well worth the wait. On Sept. 1, 2005, the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, Ill., a 228,657-square-foot recreation facility with a $26 million price tag, opened its doors as the largest recreation center in the state, outside of Chicago.
Within one year, the facility was 100-percent self-supporting, and a projected membership of 2,000 exceeded all expectations, hitting 10,000 and still climbing. Clearly, they did something right.
"Community input was very instrumental for the success of the facility overall," said Rhonda Mont, marketing director with Aurora-based Cordogan Clark & Associates, designers of the project. "As we went into the project, they gave input from the very start. The capital campaign and referendum was a great endeavor, and the product was outstanding."
Because the community was brought into the process from the beginning—with the design and planning team eliciting their opinions and noting their ideas—their ultimate enthusiasm for the project resulted in tremendous financial support. A 71 percent voter approval of the $33 million referendum in March 2002 gave the project the financial muscle it needed to meet the recreational needs of the community.
Savvy membership packages offering patrons flexibility in using only parts or all of the facility's services, as well as savvy partnerships with other community organizations, also have contributed to the facility's books being in the black.
The center has many of the bells and whistles any community would envy. From a 41,000-square-foot fieldhouse with suspended 1/6-mile running track, to multiple pool areas (complete with not one, but two tube slides), to quality changing areas including those for families, to a 55,000-square-foot indoor tennis facility and tennis support shop—to name but a few of the features—this recreation center has much to recommend it.
Thanks to a particularly effective and visually stunning design feature of the building—its many glass-paneled interior and exterior walls—patrons and visitors know it's a special place even before sampling its services. With an easy view of waterpark activity from the outside, passing drivers get a tantalizing glimpse of the recreation within.
"Our best form of advertisement is the windows," said Steve Messerli, executive director and chief executive officer for the Fox Valley Park District. "It's a picture postcard of what we're doing with lots of natural sunlight."
Like the early planners who took the time to realize where people in the community stood with recreation and where they wanted to go, the many large glass walls of the facility are a tangible, visible representation of what made this project so successful in the first place: connectivity.
"It's connectivity—the use of very large glass walls with natural light," Mont said. "It's very way-finder friendly. A lot of times in other facilities, you don't know where to go, and it can be confusing, but because of the large expanse of glass walls in the Vaughan Athletic Center, you can immediately see where you are and where to go."
Not only do the large window-walls let in lots of natural light—a cheery welcome in winter months—and subsequently save on lighting costs, they also are tinted with high-performance glazing to limit heat gain and reduce cooling costs. Beauty and brains.
Other smart design features include an emphasis on energy savings, like the high-efficiency light sources and central controls.
Cost-saving ideas like precast wall panels reduced construction costs. Concepts of multi-functionality and flexibility translated into smaller (read: more efficient) HVAC systems for each of the separate pool areas for greater control and cost savings. Flooring used throughout the center can service everything from the simple warm-up to various sporting events and community expos.
"The sheer magnitude with all we offer under one roof—the size and scope of the facility, plus the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association's administrative offices and therapies," Messerli concluded. "We have tremendous support with over 10,000 and growing."