We work on a lot of build/design projects in retirement communities where the project is either new construction for a new community, or the plan is part of a repositioning that includes enhanced wellness spaces and services. I’ve got two communities on my desk currently where we’re helping to map out their fitness center and related spaces.
If you follow industry trends, you see it all the time in press releases, RSS feeds and other media avenues: ground breakings for projects that include a state-of-the-art wellness wing, indoor/outdoor pool complex, etc. Communities are getting serious about folding resident wellness into their broader business strategy to remain viable in the market.
Over my years at NIFS, I’ve had the pleasure of working on more than 20 different types of fitness center builds. As you can imagine, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way. Below are my top five recommendations (in random order) on pitfalls to avoid during your design journey.
#5 – Don’t let your design team talk you out of consulting with an expert who is used to programming fitness spaces.
You should rely 100% on your architectural team to provide all the elements of the space that speak to code, compliance, overall flow and esthetics as those elements relate to the broader project goal. But it’s not reasonable to expect them to understand how your personal trainers and fitness manager will work with your residents in the space. Unless your architect had a previous career managing a fitness center for an active older adult audience, my hunch (based on my experience) is that he might miss some key elements in the design that would ultimately inhibit the end-user experience.
#4 –Don’t overlook the value of qualified management for your fitness areas.
There is nothing worse than pouring money into fabulous state-of-the-art digs than to have them sit idle after the grand opening. We know that senior living fitness centers are not an “if you build it they will come” proposition. Your resident audience will be expecting support to use the pool, fitness center, and other health-related spaces. Plan to hire a qualified manager who is dedicated to running this physical dimension of your wellness strategy. (Note – this is not the same as your fee-for-service personal trainer.) You’ll be glad you did.
#3 – Don’t assume that what you’re planning for today will fit you tomorrow.
If you follow #5 and #4 above, you’ll be quite pleased with how well-utilized the exercise programs are in your community. And it won’t be long before you need to add another treadmill, a mat table, or another piece of equipment. If you design with growth in mind, you’ll be able to do some subtle shifting of existing equipment to make new pieces fit. Similarly, if you anticipate that the space and services will quickly become wildly popular, you may need to add staffing. Planning for additional staff workspace is also essential.
#2 – Don’t get swept up by a sales pitch from an equipment vendor.
Exercise equipment comes in a lot of shapes and sizes – it is not one size fits all. Treadmills can vary widely on the marketplace in terms of features, cost, warranty, and ease of use. Do your homework (or hire someone to help you) and avoid being swayed by the sales pitches from equipment retailers. All of them will put together a layout for you at “no extra cost”. All of them will tell you they’ve been in the active aging market for decades. All of them will tell you that they have the best science behind their product. It’s a very buyer beware market.
#1 – Don’t get tunnel vision on what a quality fitness program (bricks and mortar + management) can do for your residents and the greater community.
Expand your vision of what’s possible in the space. If you can dream big on this project, you’ll be able to anticipate where the market is headed for resident wellness. Do you have an opportunity to capitalize on your local neighbors for some revenue by opening up your fitness center and services to the 55+ community who does not yet live on your campus? Can you see a path to combine therapy and wellness in your new space where the transition of care is seamless for your residents? How do you need to design the space to support these concepts as part of your future? Think about separate entrances, equipment, user privacy needs, data lines and medical records storage. What has to be in place for your dream space to become a reality and potentially a new best practice in resident fitness programming?
It can be both exciting and daunting to embark on a substantial construction project. Getting the right stakeholders to the design table early will help you carefully navigate some of the common pitfalls I noted above. If you’ve “been there” and “done that”, share your tips below. If you’re about to embark on this kind of project and you’d like to learn more about the key elements of fitness center design, download our Build Vitality eBook.