Rethinking the Role of An Athletic Facility

The life of a student on campus has seen a remarkable evolution in the last decade. Students now are more mobile, savvy, and health-conscious than ever. Whereas athletic facilities may have been a nice added touch for prospective students, today they are an integral part of the recruiting process — not only for athletes but for the entire student population — something often used by institutions to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The athletic facility of the past might have housed strength training and basketball, but today is different. Universities try and offer a broad spectrum of services and activities to appease the largest number of both students and potential students. Today these buildings commonly support climbing walls, juice bars and cafes, aquatic facilities, high-tech strength and cardio facilities, yoga and meditation studios, racquetball and squash courts, and even instructional cooking studios.

Sustainable Design

An efficient athletic center is a key component of any campus’s energy management plan, as these spaces have been historically energy intensive. The task of heating, cooling, and lighting a large space which sees large occupancy swings across varied usage schedules – all the while trying to minimize energy consumption – presents significant systemic challenges.

From daylight harvesting to energy recovery, photovoltaic arrays to demand-controlled ventilation, a carefully designed and well thought out athletic center can actually reduce campus energy usage while maintaining user comfort. When developed in concert with the building architecture, these mechanical and electrical elements can be unnoticeable to students – but very noticeable to facility managers. Conversely it is beneficial to put these design elements on center-stage, as both an educational and a public relations tool, reinforcing an institution’s overall commitment to sustainable design.


Whether surfing Facebook while riding a bike, checking recent sports scores after a game of basketball, or catching up on a missed episode of a favorite show while running on the elliptical, today’s students have a much different set of needs than the previous generation.

Gone are the days of running on a treadmill while a lone television hangs on the wall across the room. Instead of just running on a treadmill, today’s student may meet with University training staff members to develop personalized training plans. This information can be uploaded to individual equipment to customize workout regimens and track the student’s progress, all while the user passes time with a personal television or access to social media. Today’s athletic centers have evolved into a hub of communication and entertainment, most require the network infrastructure that in the past would be more representative of a computer lab or data center than just a “gym”.

The world of athletic and fitness facility design is always evolving as a response to ever-changing student demands and needs. The goal should be to try and meet these demands and needs as much as possible while living within the means and long term mission of the institution. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

If you need assistance in understanding more about athletic facilities and their role within the context of the collegiate experience, as well as the systems needed to support this function, please do not hesitate to contact Wesley Stiles, PE at (717) 845-7654 or

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