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Award Winner - May 2012

Central Park Recreation Center

Denver, Colorado



S U B M I T T E D    B Y

Sink Combs Dethlefs, Sports Architecture in Denver

Size: 56,940 square feet

Project Cost: $13.5 million

Quick Tour:

  • Two-court gymnasium
  • Fitness center
  • Group exercise studios
  • Spinning studio
  • Indoor leisure pool
  • Indoor 4-lane, 25-yard lap pool
  • Child sitting center
  • Family lounge & activity space
  • Multipurpose community rooms
  • Separate pool & fitness locker rooms
  • Outdoor fields & playgrounds
  • Trail links to Denver's new 100-acre Central Park

One of the largest residential infill development projects ever planned in the United States transformed the former Stapleton Airport site in eastern Denver into a vibrant, mixed-use development, the center of which is the 100-acre Central Park and a recreation center that was completed in January 2011. The new Central Park Recreation Center is the culmination of nearly eight years of planning and cooperation between community groups, the City of Denver Parks and Recreation, Forest City Development and Metro Denver YMCA. Some of the primary goals of the project included integrating the building into the park and trail network, providing a diverse range of activities, taking advantage of great views of the Rocky Mountains and downtown, and focusing on sustainability.

Siting of such a large building—nearly 57,000 square feet—between the park and residential neighborhoods required finesse, as well as an understanding of vehicular and pedestrian patterns. The parking is located adjacent to Martin Luther King Boulevard, one of Denver's larger arterial roads and the main access point to downtown. This allows the remaining site to be more natural and pedestrian friendly. The building footprint is situated to allow the adjacent pocket park to extend across the entry plaza at the upper level. The orientation is rotated slightly north of west to allow spaces to capture western views without direct west solar gain.

The trail network extending throughout Westerly Creek is heavily used and connects to the larger Denver trail network. The site circulation connects both the east and west entries to this network, and the adjacent open space. The building's undulating forms are derived from the free-flowing landforms of the site, and the adjacent 100-acre Central Park. The arcing walls of glass capture the breathtaking uninterrupted views of the Rocky Mountains and downtown Denver.

Nestled within the heart of the park, and a progressive and affluent neighborhood, the building needed to strike a balance between iconic image and low-scale, unobtrusive forms. The structure is retained into the hillside, allowing the main entry adjacent to neighbors to be a single story, while the elevation facing the park is a two-story glass fašade, creating the dynamic image the community desired.

The spaces that benefit from the views the most—the fitness center and pool—are organized along the north and west edge of the plan facing the park, while spaces such as the gymnasium and free weight area are partially buried toward the back of the plan. Every major space within the building is showered in natural light, but through careful orientation and strategic shading, direct glare is minimized. Spaces are also connected vertically with larger floor openings and incorporating vertical circulation, allowing light to filter between floors. Skylights were employed in areas where additional functional daylighting was desirable, such as the natatorium, gymnasium and lobby. Very few spaces within the building require artificial lighting during daylight hours.


The Central Park Recreation Center was jointly funded by the Park Creek Metropolitan District and the 2008 'Better Denver Bond Program.' The initial funding for the project was part of a tax incremental financing plan in the original Stapleton development plan. When it became clear that this budget may not be adequate to serve the needs of this fast-growing community, the City of Denver contributed tax dollars to fund the balance. Together, both entities participated in the funding, management and ultimately operation of this building and have demonstrated how a public-private partnership can collaborate to offer better amenities to the community.

The Recreation Center received LEED Gold certification in 2011. The facility has thrived from the moment it opened, and has become an active hub of the community ever since.




W H A T   T H E   J U D G E S   S A I D

"A rich rhythm of moving shape and color against the horizon. An open plan unencumbered by corridors with active and open vistas from all vantage points."

David Sprague

"Well thought out plan provides views to the west and northwest. Attractive building."

Howard Blaisdell

"I'm so impressed with the spaces. The flow and uses of each area is exceptional, very imaginative."

Jeff Nagel

"The floor plan is driven by the views to the mountains. Organization works well in capturing these views and creating openness throughout the plans."

Reed Voorhees



A S S O C I A T E D    F I R M S

Aquatic Consultant: Water Technology Inc.

Civil Engineer: Vision Land Consultants

Electrical Engineer: IES

Energy Modeling: Ambient Energy

General Contractor: Saunders Construction

Landscape Architect: EDAW (AECOM)

LEED Consultant: Design Balance

Mechanical Engineer: The Ballard Group

Specs: Specifications by Design

Structural Engineer: Martin/Martin



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