Is bigger better?
This then opens the door to question, “Should we be building mega multi-million dollar regional multi-use recreation complexes, or should the focus be on local facilities and programs that foster everyday activities and socialization with one’s immediate neighbours?”
Cynthia Watson, Chief Evolution Officer at Vivo (formerly Cardel Place) notes her facility is a “gathering place for the community. We are the afterschool place, the youth space, the older adult social connector, the health services touchpoint, the social entrepreneur incubator, the healthy living collaborator...oh and yes - we do have swimming lessons and fitness classes too!” home to a diversity of community, cultural, sport, faith-based, education and recreation groups.
She adds, “Vivo is home to several older adult groups like SPRY in the Hills. It is a Girl Guide clubhouse, a Spirit of Math classroom and the Dawat E-Islamic Centre Calgary’s Friday afternoon prayer group worship space. And we are a meeting space for Northern Hills Connect a group of 25+ social entrepreneurs.”
She notes “you get better economies of scale and operating efficiencies when you combine multiple uses in one facilities vs scattering several single-use facilities in different communities. Larger facilities are also more cost effective from a staffing perspective.”
Multi-use facilities are also more convenient for parents when little Johnny has a hockey game, older sister Sally can go to the library and Mom can have a coffee klatch with other parents or perhaps even do her own workout. Watson thinks “the City did a good job when they started to combine traditional recreation centres with libraries and other activities.”
Vivo’s catchment started with 75,000 people in 2004 and has grown to well over 145,000 today. It includes established communities like Northern Hills, Sandstone MacEwan, Beddington, Huntington Hills, Hidden Valley, growing communities like Evanston, Kincora, Sage Hill and new communities like Livingston and Carrington.
Today it has approximately 1.3 million visitors a year, with plans in place for an $60 million 85,000 square foot addition due to the popularity of its facilities and programs. The expansion will include an indoor park that can be used in the winter by seniors who just want to walk without fear of falling on the ice, while young families can enjoy the playground as they do in the summer. The park will also accommodate festivals and events like movie-in-the-park in the winter adding another dimension to the community’s socialization.
Watson said users are telling them “they want more flexible, social gathering places where they can come and go base on their own schedule. Places where they can just hang out or do things in a less structured way.”
When I chatted with Glenda Marr, Business Development Manager for the Genesis Center in the northeast, the story was the same – programs are popular, operating at capacity and looking at expansion. In fact, many of Calgary’s older regional recreation centres as so popular they are operating at or near capacity and have plans for expansion.