Designing Sports & Recreation Facilities for Athletes and Students with Disabilities Takes ADA and Universal Design to the Next Level
Sports can play an important therapeutic role in both the physical and mental health of persons with disabilities. Recreational and competitive adapted athletics programs are becoming more commonplace at colleges and universities across the country, with high profile programs that feed directly into the international competition of the US Paralympic games. The increasing popularity of competitive adapted sports has highlighted the need for specialized facilities responsive to the unique requirements of these athletes and athletic programs.
Led by Birmingham Studio Director, Hugh Thornton AIA, our team recently completed the first new purpose-built collegiate adapted athletics arena in the United States. We’ve designed facilities for adapted sports and recreation for over 20 years.
Stran-Hardin Arena for Adapted Athletics at the University of Alabama: Breaking New Ground
When the KPS team was selected by the University of Alabama to design the new arena for its national championship wheelchair sports teams – the first facility of its kind in the nation – the designers drew on lessons learned from their work on the Lakeshore Foundation’s award-winning recreation facility and feedback from its US Paralympic coaches. Armed with that insight, our team fleshed out and refined the University’s initial program and project goals with input from UA facilities staff and Alabama Adapted coaches and players to develop this groundbreaking facility. The arena is named for Dr. Brent Hardin and Dr. Margaret Stran, founders of the University of Alabama’s Adapted Athletics program, whose vision and dedication led to this facility specifically designed to suit the needs of physically disabled athletes.
A Facility Worthy of National Championship Teams
Attached to the south façade of the existing Student Recreation Center, the 27,000sf arena maintains synergy with the existing building while establishing its own distinctive identity. A soaring entrance lobby, featuring custom graphics celebrating the teams’ accomplishments, leads to a 2-level lobby concourse with a dramatic floating ramp to its second floor viewing platform. The NCAA-regulation basketball court provides bleacher seating for 500. Coaches’ offices and a multi-media team meeting room are tucked under the upper viewing lobby. Separate Home and Visitors’ locker rooms are equipped with lockable lockers and direct access, roll-in showers. Support spaces include a weight room, wheelchair & equipment storage and service areas, and laundry.
Custom Designed to the Smallest Details
The design team was challenged to go beyond 100% accessible in this innovative facility, and collaborated closely with University coaches, players, and facilities staff. Starting with corridors wide enough for two camber wheelchairs to comfortably pass and double entry doors with no center poles, even the smallest design elements were examined for ways to enhance the athletes’ experience and competitive edge. Clearances around the basketball court exceed NCAA standard, with a generous setback for bleachers. Many features were custom designed, from the roll-up lobby reception desk, to the lockers, to wheelchair storage and repair facilities. Every detail was tested and adapted for ease-of-use.
The Lakeshore Foundation: Realizing a Bold Vision
Known around the world for its innovative programs, the Lakeshore Foundation in Homewood, Alabama is a unique organization whose mission is to provide unparalleled recreational and therapeutic opportunities for the physically disabled. Home to one of the nation’s leading centers for the advancement of athletics for people with physical disabilities and the only center of its kind in the southeast, Lakeshore attracts international athletes with disabilities to its training facilities. Coaches, many of whom have stellar athletic careers of their own, have come to Lakeshore from all over the world, drawn by Lakeshore’s barrier-free recreation and athletic complex, staff expertise, and commitment to expanding opportunities for the physically disabled.
Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility: Home of the U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team
KPS was commissioned to design a 42,500sf recreational facility on the Lakeshore campus that would allow its members to participate in a wide range of fitness, recreation, athletic, and education programs. Featuring a grand 2-story atrium with sweeping campus views and a viewing lobby overlooking its Aquatic Center, it houses 3 courts striped for basketball, wheelchair rugby, and volleyball as well as a 200-meter track, bocce courts, therapeutic and competition pools, fitness center, marksmanship range, archery lanes, administrative and coaches’ offices, team locker rooms, and a sports science & medicine facility.
Because the building’s users are predominantly disabled, it was designed to be 100% accessible, greatly exceeding ADA requirements. In 2003, the US Olympic Committee designated Lakeshore as the first-ever official USOC Training Site for both Olympic and Paralympic sports. Since that time, the facility has trained thousands of disabled athletes and serves an average of 3,000 users annually.
The Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility is the official home of the US Paralympic Rugby team. It was recognized internationally with an Award of Special Distinction from the IOC/IAKS 2005 Architecture & Sport Competition in Warsaw, Poland. KPS is currently designing a new research wing for the facility.
Visiting Athlete Dormitory
After Lakeshore Foundation’s Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility was chosen as one of five US Paralympic training facilities, the Foundation needed to provide suitable space to house the disabled athletes and military veterans it welcomes from across the nation.
A former transitional living unit for the rehabilitation hospital on the campus offered an economical and ecologically sound solution to the problem. The design team’s primary challenges were to make the unoccupied 11,000sf building compatible for exclusive use by the disabled while transforming its sterile atmosphere into a casual and inviting ambience much like a college dorm. As well, Lakeshore wanted to incorporate sustainable features to achieve LEED Certification from the US Green Building Council.
The Dormitory provides 100% accessible living space for its athletes-in-residence. The central section of the building was substantially rebuilt with a double-height volume to bring daylight into its new common areas and kitchen. Natural light, high ceilings, bright colors, and organic shapes evoke the motion and high energy of the athletes. Interior materials and finishes were chosen for their durability, with strategically placed splashes of color and tactile surfaces that aid wayfinding for the visually impaired.
Hugh Thornton, AIA | mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org