After more than a year of living with pandemic restrictions, it’s natural that we are missing activities that bring us joy and connection. Recreation centres (rec centres), for example, are where many of us used to go to exercise, play sports, take classes, access resources – and to build our sense of community.

Being denied this form of leisure has broadened our awareness of how important rec centre programming is to our physical and mental health. With demand for community programs rising, now is the time for municipal leaders to consider how capital budgets can support the health and wellbeing of their communities moving through and out of the pandemic.

Through observations and discussions, we have identified some useful tips to help you and your team successfully deliver your next rec centre project – a community hub that maximizes investment and provides optimum value for your residents now and into the future.

1. Plan for Everything

As government grants and stimulus funding become available, preparing to take advantage of such funding is paramount. To do so, a solid rec centre business case is key; one that details how you’ll obtain funding, approach the project, and engage your project team. Whether you’re starting fresh or reprioritizing existing long-term capital plans, a solid business case lays the foundation for your project's success.

A good business case has essential ingredients. Including data on community demographics, a demonstrated need for community space, and proven use and demand can help you transform your business case into the basis of your stimulus funding application. As competition for municipal funding increases, it’s more important than ever to give your project an added advantage by making sure it is well documented. Doing so can help you secure a government grant while you also explore creative funding routes, such as sponsorships and fundraising or naming rights, to further supplement your project budget.

An example of this comes from a recent community centre project. As part of its planning process, the municipality was looking for innovative ways to fund its project. A team member suggested using sponsored branding to help raise funds, so the project sponsor approached a local steel manufacturer on the municipality’s fundraising board with a sponsorship opportunity. In this case, the manufacturer chose to donate all the structural steel for the facility, saving the municipality $500,000. The recreation centre was later named in honour of the steel manufacturer in recognition of its generous donation.

The municipality’s creative funding solution led to a very positive outcome for the community. That said, a rec centre business case must demonstrate both the community value and a clear understanding of the cost of your project to secure project funding.

As stimulus funding applications are generally a one-shot deal, this means you must estimate your preliminary project plan, construction, furniture, equipment and operational costs to build out a total project value. While seemingly simple, poor estimates can be the root cause of deviations from your baseline budget.

To help capture costs effectively, you’ll need the help of an informed team able to collaborate to strengthen your foundation as you move through design and into construction. Building a great team often involves managing expectations around the scope of work and setting clear and specific responsibilities for consultants. By articulating a set of ground rules via the consultant RFP, you can clearly express your expectations surrounding roles, responsibilities and design scope changes. Doing so also helps ensure that your consultants understand and agree with your approach.

2. Take Charge of Design and Construction

Congratulations! You’ve funded your project and procured your team. Now, it’s time to lead design.

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Fantastic design concepts can captivate us with beauty, but also distract us from function. This is where local governments have an advantage. Project owners, community end users and facility staff can all contribute valuable insights that can positively impact day-to-day operations for the benefit of all.

Take another example, this time of a community sports centre. The original building design included a grand hallway that would serve as a gathering space for parents and athletes. The arena’s north hallway entrance quickly became the main building entrance. After construction, however, issues arose. The combination of high ceilings, an underperforming air curtain and slow-closing automated doors created a near wind tunnel effect, and the hallway often became so cold that the sprinkler pipes froze. The cold also forced people to quickly move through the space without lingering.

Ultimately, the municipality made post-construction changes to address the issue. In retrospect, a more careful consideration of the unique site conditions may have enabled a simple design change – the inclusion of a 90-degree vestibule entrance – to mitigate the issue entirely. As Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “It is easy to be wise after the event.” That’s little comfort for municipal leaders when their communities don’t get what they need.

3.
Ensure Optimal Operational Performance

The final stages of a project are an exciting, but also a critical time for facility owners. Left to operate and maintain the building once complete, you need to be sure you're ready to take on operations.

The best way to ensure your facility will meet performance expectations is to consider how it will operate. Who will be responsible for maintenance and operations? What training do they need? What will the maintenance schedule be? How will the community use the facility, and are additional functional changes needed?

A client recently likened the closeout of a facility project to a hockey game where, “It’s the end of the third period and everybody is trying to get off the ice.” This analogy emphasizes the importance of the early definition and clear delineation of closeout tasks, to be completed before the game is over.

Capital projects can be under construction for months – or even years. It’s only natural for contractors to be looking ahead to their next project as yours nears completion. However, you want to be sure that everything is done right to guarantee that your project is operating as expected once finished. This starts with a task as simple as making sure contractors deliver as-builts and maintenance manuals in a timely manner.

Many clients express frustration that the building performance promised during design does not materialize post occupancy. Generally, this relates back to how the facility is operated and if the right people were present during training. Training and commissioning are necessary components to effectively transition into efficient facility operation and to achieve expected performance. Building systems have become increasingly sophisticated and it’s important to ensure operations staff are comfortable with new systems. As technologies advance, facility owners have an opportunity to incorporate new ways of training – such as pre-recorded videos or Zoom classes – to provide operators with a reusable, shareable reference.

As most municipal leaders know, it’s important to be proactive when developing new community infrastructure. By combining a strong business case with a knowledgeable team and plans to manage unforeseen risks and ongoing operations, you will be well prepared to invest your capital budget wisely in your new rec centre project.

Start this critical planning now with a concentrated effort to lead your rec centre project. Doing this will result in a top-notch facility that meets grant approvers’ expectations, as well as the families and community members it's designed to serve.