eters Township in Venetia, Pa., took a cue from one of nature's graceful fliers when designing its new recreation center.
"Hawks are common in the area, and we used that in our design," says Douglas Shuck, principal for WTW Architects. "We wanted it to appear as if the hawk was taking flight, the wings being the wings of the community centerpiece, the glass being the translucent eyes."
The front of the building has two wings on either side of the main entrance that angle back, similar to a hawk's arched wings. An elongated central core of the building further develops the avian-themed design for the facility.
But the rec center, finished in August 2004, almost didn't take flight at all.
"We had just completed a recreation plan [for the community], and the two options were a resident's pool and a recreation center," says Michael Silvestri, township manager. "Although the pool was in great demand, we decided upon the recreation center because it would have more utility, with all the growth in the community."
It seems they made the right decision.
"It provides some kind of central community location," Silvestri says. "We see kids come in the summer or after school, playing games. Not [just] organized activity. And not only that. People of all ages use the center."
Equipped with a suspended 1/10-mile track, exercise areas, concessions kitchen and conference room, enlarged TV screen and portable stage for special events, multipurpose room with an adjacent kitchen, family restroom, as well as outdoor trails, softball fields, skatepark, the center offers a little bit of everything. The double-size gymnasium with four basketball courts is a major plus as well.
"[The center] is very, very well-used—it's in big demand," Silvestri says. "During the basketball season, all the youth leagues take over the courts, and the meeting rooms are always being booked."
The recreation center does not have an actual fitness center, but it does offer a dance exercise room with Pilates exercise balls. There is also a casual room for games and meetings and a room for crafts.
The 38,000-square-foot facility uses large windows to infuse light into the building, adding a warm, one-with-nature awareness that is further encouraged by the view of the surrounding Peterswood Park. Outdoor trails also tie the center in with the outdoors. The Arrowhead Trail, a 3.5-mile-long walkway that winds through the community, flows into the park and subsequently offers runners, walkers and bikers a direct route to the recreation center.
"People are always in [the center] for a walk on the trails," Silvestri notes.
But construction of the facility was no mere walk in the park.
"We did 16 soil borings," Shuck explains, "where you bore 2.5-inch diameter holes 30 or 40 feet into the ground. You do this to see if you hit rocks, or what we call refusal. We didn't find anything major. But when doing excavations, we ran into huge rocks, Volkswagen-sized rocks."
After this rocky start, construction took off in fall 2003.
The community center—home to the lobby, administrative offices, multipurpose room and concessions kitchen—was a conventionally framed piece that architects placed in front of the gym, which was actually a pre-engineered building. The combination of the conventionally constructed community center and the pre-engineered gym was unusual, Shuck says.
Originally, the double-size gym, located behind the community center, was too imposing, as it stood, for the surrounding area. Although the elevated track prevented encroachment on the four basketball courts, it added height to the already large building. As a result, the behemoth structure failed to integrate harmoniously with the park and homes nearby. To combat this problem, designers pushed it into the hillside.
"Since it is located in a residential area," Shuck says, "doing this reduced the size and apparent scale of the structure."
The parks and recreation committee that dealt with the fiscal aspects of the project configured payment options to guarantee that community members would not suffer a tax increase for funding. The committee also made sure the facility would be free to use. With a state grant for $250,000 obtained with the help of state Rep. John Maher and a $5 million bond issue, the construction costs were covered. And customers were happy at not having to foot the bill.
"The recreation center is cost-affordable," Silvestri says. "It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of other places, but it still helps maintain property value and provides a service to community members."
Currently, the recreation center offers general use of the facility at no charge, with only special programs incurring a fee. But in an unexpected twist, this free-for-all policy creates a downside for community members.
"People only pay for programs like Pilates courses," Silvestri says, "but we're re-evaluating that right now because people from other communities are using [the center], since nobody else has one in the area, and that's taking away from our members."
Bells and whistles or not, Peters Township, and the surrounding townships for that matter, has thoroughly embraced its pragmatic recreation center.