On Top of the World
The Wave Aquatic & Fitness Center
Tucked into the beautiful Flathead Valley in Whitefish, Mont., The Wave Aquatic & Fitness Center provides an aquatic recreation center, health club, physical therapy and salon/day spa. This 53,000-square-foot design-build facility aimed to enhance a sense of community in an area with diverse lifestyles, and it delivers on that promise.
"The demographics of Whitefish are about as wide-spanning as you can possibly get," said Stephen L'Heureux, president and principal-in-charge at L'Heureux Page Werner, the Great Falls, Montana-based architectural firm that designed the facility. "You have some of the wealthiest people in the country—maybe in the world—and some of the poorest people living below the poverty line. They really wanted to make sure that everybody could be there. There's a health club down the road, but it's very expensive, and there was nothing for the community."
Donations funded the entire project, with $5 million raised in a single year. Once the facility was complete, the donors gave The Wave back to the city.
"The money was privately raised, and it was raised by very wealthy people in the community, but with the caveat that it had to be affordable for everybody and appeal to everybody in the community—especially the kids," L'Heureux said. "They were trying to start a trend of health and wellness among the members of the community."
Beyond just raising the funds for design and construction of the facility, donors ended up raising enough money to fund scholarships for lower-income children as well.
The building blends nicely with its natural alpine environment. The exterior includes timber framing, wood siding, metal roofing (which is best for heavy snowfall) and stone to cleverly disguise the efficient pre-engineered metal main structure. The west side of the building was carved into the hill to reduce exposure of exterior walls—important in the mountain climate. To add visual interest and provide shading, designers incorporated extensive landscaping.
"They were very concerned that it blend in with the vernacular of the mountain town," L'Heureux explained. It could be mistaken for one of the lodges around the area."
Inside, the Wave is a blend of rustic detailing and industrial spaces with warm finishes that give the overall club an upscale feel. The entire facility can be seen from the central public spaces, inviting athletes, adults and kids to get active and involved. Spacious windows and translucent panels bath the facility with light and further contribute to the feeling of openness. Color and textures were used to soften areas and bring human scale to large spaces. As a result of this attention to detail, The Wave radiates energy inside and out.
The club has several entrances, making it more convenient for everyone coming into the facility. The north entrance goes to physical therapy and day spa areas, while the south entrance opens into children's party rooms and the aquatic area. The rustic main entrance serves as a welcoming central access point.
The aquatics area includes a competition pool, warm-water therapy pool, spas, zero-depth entry children's pool and a waterslide that takes a trip beyond the walls of the facility before turning back into the building again. The design team paid close attention to the dehumidification equipment and control systems for this area, as dehumidification is one of the biggest challenges associated with indoor pools in this cold, dry climate. A heat recovery system serves to harness waste heat and increase efficiency, lowering the facility's operating costs.
The health club area includes weight rooms, cardio machines, workout class spaces, racquetball and volleyball courts, a gymnasium, locker rooms, offices, a conference room and a juice bar. There truly is a little bit of something for everyone in the community in The Wave.
The facility opened in February 2005 and immediately exceeded its financial goals by breaking even two weeks before it was set to open.
"There is nothing like this facility for hundreds of miles," L'Heureux said. "It's a club that all walks of life can afford and enjoy for years to come."