Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

Flexible Space Inspires Innovation

Multi-purpose training facilities


The design of sports and athletics facilities in middle schools and high schools is following in the footsteps of the core academics trend that took us from traditional, double-loaded corridors to the flexible spaces of today.

Modern design for core academics focuses on a team-based, interdisciplinary approach to program delivery. Rather than long hallways and dozens of 900-square-foot classrooms, school design now includes a variety of spaces, such as small-group tutor rooms, extended-learning areas, and teacher-planning spaces. This design has become practical for physical education too.

school gym


The wrestling room in Grassfield High School (Chesapeake Public Schools, Virginia) is adjacent to the weight room and the food occupations lab. Student athletes lift weights in preparation for wrestling matches, while student chefs prepare food to sell at sporting events.

Physical education is increasingly being integrated into the core curriculum, and this integration is reflected in the facilities. Most schools have traditional competition gyms where team sports are played and auxiliary gyms where sporting skills are built and honed. Today, auxiliary gyms are often accompanied by weight rooms, training rooms, and fitness centers. These spaces help ensure students’ bodies and minds are prepared for the activities that take place in the competition gym.

Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Va., (Chesapeake Public Schools), has several athletic spaces. The wrestling room is adjacent to the auxiliary gym and the boys’ locker room. Across the hall are the weight room, training room and food-occupations lab. The training room serves as an extension of the weight room for strength, conditioning and rehabilitation. Students prepare food in the food-occupations lab to be sold at sporting events.

New spaces are being designed across the nation to enrich an interdisciplinary approach to physical education. For example, space adjacent to a fitness center lets physical therapists help special-education students with small and large motor-skill development. Space inside a training room enables students taking health-science career courses to learn hands-on skills such as physical rehabilitation.

school gym


A spinning room in Page Middle School in Gloucester, Va., (Gloucester County Public Schools), is adjacent to the cafeteria so students can engage in physical activity before or after lunch. Glass walls enable visual supervision for current use, and they also enable the space to flex over time. This area can serve as a small breakout space when a larger group activity takes place in the cafeteria.

Since physical education focuses on the whole student (body and mind), instruction often includes lessons about nutrition. Access to a science lab or kitchen is helpful when teaching about food choices and nutrition. Access to a library or small-group tutor room enables student to participate in additional mindful practices including yoga.

designing flexible school spaces


Sometimes a location for a space isn’t obvious. When the Boise School District, in Idaho, was creating education facility standards for new high schools being constructed, educators debated the best location for a dance studio. Should it be next to the gym or auditorium? They decided the dance studio should be located between the two and serve as a metaphorical bridge. Both the physical education department and the theater/dance department can the space, which is called the Lifestyle Fitness Lab.

Designing flexible spaces for physical education is just as important as designing flexible spaces for core academics. Flexible space inspires innovation.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Kerrianne Wolf, REFP, is the director of Educational Specifications for DeJONG-RICHTER in Dublin, Ohio. She has served as an educational planner for more than 11 years and holds an Ohio teaching license for gifted and talented education in grades K-12 and elementary education in grades 1-8.