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Comprehensive recreational facilities plan crucial step in construction projects

by National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association

Process of Comprehensive Recreational Planning for Facilities

Recreational resources play a far more important role in the recruitment and retention of students and faculty than is generally recognized by institutions today. The emphasis on health and wellness becomes part of the decision package when students, especially graduate students, and the professional staff and younger faculty are being recruited by the institution. A lack of adequate sport, recreation, and fitness facilities and programs to meet desires for recreational opportunities can become the basis for the decision of a faculty or staff recruit not to accept an offer or of a potential student to enroll at another institution. The author considers all open spaces potential places for some type of recreation, either active or passive. Furthermore, outdoor recreation spaces contribute to a "sense of place" and belonging on the part of the campus user. Much of the tradition of a campus is directly linked to its open spaces. Therefore, planning for recreational opportunities is an important task that all institutions must undertake, and the needs of the program must become part of the institution’s annual planning and budgeting cycle. As explained in the definition of a facilities plan on page 17, a campus unit may wish to prepare a detailed plan for its facilities needs. The sport and recreation department may need to prepare such a plan for its own use (e.g., capital campaign, preparation for a state legislative request, expansion of programs). The funding for this planning effort would be provided by the sport and recreation department, and its preparation must be guided by the principles, policies, and guidelines in the campus master plan.

Figure 1.8 illustrates a nine-step process for preparing a comprehensive recreational facilities plan that will meet the needs of a college or university. The process will work whether the planning model is a campus master plan organized around precincts or supported by land-use designations. The process involves sequential phases that build on each other; a systematic assessment of conditions, issues, needs, and site possibilities; and an understanding of how they come together in a physical setting. It requires an understanding of how recreation relates to the strategic initiatives and objectives of the institution and the priorities that recreation is given in the planning and budgeting cycle.

This approach, developed to operate within the governing structure of the University of Minnesota, of course can be modified and should be adjusted in order to be consistent with the organizational structure and decision-making process of the particular institution. This is a critical requirement for effective employment of the concepts discussed in this chapter, because colleges and universities differ in critical areas of academic, research, outreach, administration, faculty, staff, and student composition. The planning approach should be modified to accommodate the structural components and governing relationships of the institution undertaking the effort to develop a successful plan.

Step 1: Organization of Planning Effort

Another term used to refer to this step is the tactical plan, the development of strategies, policies, and procedures with regard to how the planning process will be conducted, who will be involved, the budget, and what the time frame will be. Typically, the president of the institution or another high-level authority appoints a planning advisory committee composed of the director of recreation, director of student affairs, faculty, members of central administration, and students and provides them with a carefully worded charge of responsibilities and the name of the committee chair. In-house planning staff (or persons responsible for maintaining the campus master plan and its process) and other staff personnel should also be assigned to this committee.

This step involves the identification of key issues that must be taken into consideration to organize the planning framework that will address existing and emerging recreational program needs. The importance of identifying sport or recreational issues and clearly laying out their implications in relation to the development of facilities is based on the premise that effective sport and recreation programs are an integral part of an institution, sustaining its broad mission objectives. As stated earlier, sport and recreation play an important role in the recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty and in establishing their future loyalty to the institution as alumni and supporters of its programs.

Step 2: Define Purpose and Objectives

Although the appointment letter to the committee should include the primary purpose and objective for initiating the planning effort based on the institution’s mission and vision, the committee’s first assignment is to prepare a clear and more detailed statement of the purpose and objectives of preparing the plan. Developing this statement requires a broad assessment of the recreational desires and needs of the campus community. The committee must assess the capability of in-house staff to support the project in order to determine the need for outside consultants and must establish a general budget for completing the preparation of the plan. The statement of purpose and objectives and the budget require the review and approval of the president and the central officers.

Step 3: Development of Data

This step relates to the first question ("Where am I?") in the simplified approach to planning. An inventory of recreation facilities and an audit of the quantity and quality of these facilities as well as usage by all campus constituents must be conducted. Similarly, an inventory of the faculty and staff and an evaluation of the quantity and quality of performance (teaching and research) must be compiled. A comprehensive inventory of program and facility needs should be prepared by each constituent group within the department, containing graphics and written descriptions as well as a listing of required program adjacencies and support infrastructure. A campus-wide strategy for recreational sports should be developed that will provide the context for comprehensively exploring the needs of the campus community, consider campus-wide constraints and opportunities, and clarify sport priorities.

A carefully executed space utilization study must be prepared. Recreational needs must be measured in terms of space and usage information, applied against standards and guidelines (campus, national, or both) and data gathered from comparable institutions (benchmarking). The committee must determine whether this very specialized, technical report can be prepared by the planning staff or whether the expertise of space programming and management consultants is needed.

Finally, a report on the learning environment and campus citizenship should be prepared by the faculty and researchers in the department of recreation or physical education or by institutional researchers. This report is critical to understanding the core values, the support for recreation, and the implementation possibilities of the plan.

Step 4: Staff, Land, and Facility Requirements

The careful and accurate preparation of information in the previous step will ensure the proper projection and determination of the staff, land, and facilities required to serve the recreational needs of the institution. An important tool during this step is the application of standards and guidelines, adopted (approved) by the institution, to determine the amount of land and number of facilities needed to meet the objectives of the recreation program on the campus. The question "Where do I want to go?" is answered in this step of the planning process. The real value of recreation to the institution and a vision of its future will determine the amount of support (especially financial) that will be made available to hire personnel, purchase land, build facilities, and maintain programs.

Step 5: Development Strategies

With appropriate consultants (if needed) onboard to assist the committee and the staff, development strategies can be prepared for review by the president and the central officers. Various approaches and concepts must be explored and evaluated to determine how to best provide the land and facilities required to support the recreation program. For example, the committee must determine where rental, remodeling, renovation, additions, or new construction will be appropriate to meet campus facilities needs, as well as potential sites for new development. The following are site selection criteria for recreational development (Campus Master Planning Office, 1999):

1. Conformance with the campus master plan. The use of a site conforms to the principles, policies, and guidelines for the precinct in the master plan.

2. Accessibility by pedestrians, buses, and automobiles. Users must be able to reach recreation sites with reasonable convenience through a combination of walking, bicycling, and transit by automobile and bus. Access routes should be understandable and clearly identified.

3. Parking. Where access is by automobile, parking should be available. Can participants be provided with adequate spaces and in reasonable proximity to the recreation program?

4. Availability. If the site is owned by the institution, the option to use it for recreation must be confirmed. If it is land to be acquired or leased, the feasibility and timing of doing so need to be tested and confirmed.

5. Compatibility with surrounding area. The impact of using a site for recreational purposes needs to be tested in relation to adjoining property uses and activities. This is most important if the site is near or adjacent to noninstitutional owners.

6. Suitability for the program. The site must be able to accommodate the operational requirements of the activities envisioned for it.

7. Development costs. Costs related to size, shape, topography, utilities, condition, and special character are within the established budget for the project.

Step 6: Alternative Plans

The completion of development strategies will facilitate the preparation (presumably by consultants and planning staff) of a set of alternative plans for review and recommendations by the committee. These detailed plans with associated costs will allow the committee to evaluate and select options that are within the budget parameters and the specific goals and objectives approved in step 2.

Step 7: Recommendations

From among the various plans prepared in step 6, the committee selects its final recommendations for review and approval by the central officers. To do this it is necessary to assess the costs and expected results of each plan under review, as well as to determine how each plan matches the goals and objectives, in order to select the plans that will be further documented and presented to the administration for its approval.

Step 8: Review and Approval

The appropriate reviews and consultation with internal and external campus constituents and final approval by the central officers, ensuring that the plan is consistent with the campus master plan, are needed in order for the committee to complete the final step in the facilities planning process. The institution may choose to take this phase of the plan to the board of regents for information and advisory purposes before the committee undertakes step 9.

Step 9: Plan of Action

This is the final step. With the approval of the proposed recreation facilities plan by central administration, the committee prepares a "plan of action," outlining a series of actions that the institution must take to fully implement the facilities plan. The action plan may include the establishment of funding phases, for example, as it is unlikely that total funding of the plan will be provided when it is completed. Funding usually comes from many sources and at different times (e.g., state appropriations, capital campaigns, student fees). A general phasing schedule for project construction is needed to accommodate existing programs and other campus projects.

The action plan should be clear, concise, and directive, laying out specific priorities, recommendations, schedules, costs, and the assignment of responsibilities. It should also include alternatives to facilitate changing conditions and priorities.

Plan Implementation

The plan for recreation facilities is only as effective as its execution by the campus decision makers. Unfortunately, many campus plans become promotional documents for capital fund drives but are rarely used to guide decisions on the physical development of the campus. In order for a plan to be an effective planning tool, an institution must establish a process for its implementation. The process must reflect the governance structure of the institution and the complexity of change it needs to address. Integral to the delivery of projects in the recreational plan is the need to be in conformance with the institution’s campus master plan. The acknowledgement on the part of recreational leaders that their needs are among the overall requirements of the campus master plan, consistent with the campus vision, will ensure more serious institutional support of their projects. Frequently, a smaller advisory committee (departmental administrators, faculty, and students) is appointed to provide continuous management of the plan. The committee keeps its ears and eyes attuned to the needs and changes that will keep the plan alive and in alignment with the campus master plan. The committee should recommend modifications or updating when conditions dictate in order to keep the plan current and the program competitive with its peers.


This is an excerpt from Campus Recreational Sports Facilities: Planning, Design, and Construction Guidelines.

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