Where the Action Is

When teachers, students and community members in the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of Clayton say they’re ready to climb a wall, in all probability they’re referring to the one located in the lobby of the Center of Clayton, situated adjacent to Clayton High School.

The center, which has been open a little more than a year and is physically interconnected to the high school building, was designed to meet the athletic, health and recreational needs of Clayton High School, this small community of about 13,000 residents and a daytime workforce of approximately 33,000. Construction of the facility was done in conjunction with the expansion and renovation of the high school. Cost for the center’s construction was $18 million.

An additional $14 million went into renovation and expansion of the high school, which included construction of a 550-seat auditorium, an experimental theater, music practice rooms and a commons area with seating for about 400.

Location of the Center of Clayton was no accident. Theodore Christner, founder and chair of the architectural firm Christner, Inc., says the school needed to improve its facilities and the city of Clayton wanted to build a community center. So, the school district and the city forged a partnership.

Maximizing the Public Dollars

Under the city/school district partnership, funding for the project was obtained through the passage of a one-half-cent city sales tax increase approved by the voters, along with money from the school district’s $19.5 million bond issue. The school district donated the land adjacent to the high school to the city for the center’s site.

The 124,000-square-foot Center of Clayton facility is operated by the Clayton Recreation, Sports and Wellness Commission, comprising six members from the city’s Board of Aldermen, the Clayton Board of Education and community members-at-large. Clayton’s city manager and superintendent of schools serve as ex-officio commission members.

According to Christner, the resident population of Clayton is fairly static, but there is continuing commercial growth, bringing an increasing influx of non-resident workers who are permitted to purchase memberships to the center.

Use of the center’s facilities is on a multi-tiered annual membership fee basis, ranging from $171 for a youth membership to $741 for a non-resident family membership. Currently, the center has a member population of more than 4,000, says Eric Urfer, director of the Clayton Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the center’s day-to-day operations.

High school students, however, have use of the center during school hours, and one hour before and after school at no charge, Christner explains. Since the high school has an open campus, students also may use the facilities during their free periods. The center is open 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, with shorter weekend hours.

Urfer says the center generates its operating revenues from membership dues, rental of the facilities and various fee-per-attendance programs.

Christner says the city and school district developed a facilities cross-utilization plan that seems to be working quite effectively. It not only crosses over from school to community, but also has the extra benefit of offering cross-generation interaction, from small children to senior citizens.

All the Amenities

The Center of Clayton features workout facilities, including an aerobics and dance room, weight training rooms and a cardiovascular room; a suspended jogging and walking track; a 25-yard, eight-lane competition swimming pool; a leisure pool with water slide, spa and two lap lanes; a gymnasium with multi-purpose playing courts; and a climbing wall in the main lobby. It also offers meeting rooms that are used for anything from corporate meetings and wedding receptions to bar and bat mitzvahs, says Urfer. A teen center, a childcare area and a snack bar also are available.

To meet the needs of the senior population, the center has a 3,000-square-foot Older Adult Service and Information System (OASIS) and BJC center. The BJC is a consortium of the Barnes, Jewish and Christian Hospitals. The OASIS/BJC Center offers adults, age 55 and older, opportunities to participate in a variety of arts and humanities courses, as well as wellness programs specifically targeted to seniors.

According to Urfer, approximately 750 people use the Center of Clayton daily. Serving that number of people was a factor considered in the center’s early planning stages, he explains.

Urfer says that input was compiled from parks and recreation employees, the school district and other special interest groups to determine programming needs. He adds that it took intricate coordination and some compromise to arrive at an operating plan for the center.

And the intergenerational mix is showing signs of success, as well. Urfer says it’s not an uncommon sight for a teenager and a senior citizen to be chatting while walking on side-by-side treadmills in one of the workout rooms.

Robbin Rittner-Heir is a Dayton-based freelance writer with experience in education issues.