Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

The Flexible Field House

Classrooms and media centers often dominate the conversation about flexibility in learning environments; however, flexibility in athletic facilities is equally important. In fact, a field house has the potential to be one of the most flexible areas in any school. With proper planning and design, a new or renovated field house becomes a black box-like space that serves everyone from athletes to mathletes.

Field House 

PHOTO BY WILLIAM MANNING PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Balance Flexibility and Budget

The size of your field house has a big impact on the number of programs you support and the flexibility you have. However, you must balance the size of the building with potential costs. Currently, there are three popular planning modules for new field houses:

  • 25,000 Square Feet: The basic planning module for a field house includes three courts (7,500 square feet per court, including run off space), a non-competitive jogging track and support space. Because non-competitive tracks don’t require a specific turning radius, the design is more compact and efficient. This type of field house supports basketball, volleyball and tennis activities.
  • 36,400 Square Feet: To support three courts and a six-lane, 160-meter track, you need a footprint of at least 140 feet by 260 feet. This type of field house supports indoor track meets, as well as basketball, volleyball and tennis activities.
  • 50,000 Square Feet: A 50,000-squarefoot field house provides space for four courts and a full 200-meter indoor track. In this configuration, the track and the courts do not overlap, allowing track activities and court activities to occur simultaneously.

While these modules provide broad guidelines, there are many variables which impact flexibility and field house size. The type of supporting facilities, including infield spaces inside the track, will impact the size of the venue. Also, adding spectator seating results in a wider or longer field house footprint.

Field House 

PHOTO BY WILLIAM MANNING PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Flexible Flooring. Synthetic flooring supports the largest variety of activities.

Due to the number of variables, it is important to listen to athletic staff, educators and community members when planning a field house. However, no matter what configuration you choose, there are specific strategies which will maximize flexibility for your field house.

Choose the Right Flooring

Flooring has one of the biggest impacts on the flexibility of a field house. It is important to carefully consider your needs, because there are significant tradeoffs involved in any flooring choice. Competition basketball games require a wood surface, while tennis requires a synthetic floor. With wood, you need to spend significant time protecting the floor. With synthetic flooring, you need to spend more money on striping.

While there is no perfect answer, a good question to ask is, “What flooring combination supports the most options?” Some clients opt for all synthetic flooring to reduce daily maintenance and to support the largest number of user groups. Other clients opt for a combination approach with one competition court comprised of wood surface and two or more courts with synthetic surfaces.

Rethink Storage

Storage is at a premium in any athletic facility. Luckily, space is plentiful in a field house if you look in the right place – and that place is up in the ceiling. Suspending equipment in the field house ceiling will reduce wear and tear on your floor, and it will reduce the amount of floor space you need to devote to equipment.

What can be up in the ceiling? As long as you have the proper ceiling height — 25 feet between the floor and the lowest obstruction is recommended — you are able to store basketball goals, volleyball goals, divider curtains and air, light and power systems. To maximize flexibility, the air, light and power systems must be on a regular grid. The more regular the grid, the more activities you can support on the floor below. For volleyball goals, storing equipment in the ceiling has greater up-front costs. However, the equipment is a simple chain and motor, so long-term maintenance is minimal.

With multiple pieces of equipment in the ceiling, you are able to take advantage of technology systems to create standard court configurations. From an iPad on the wall, you can move from a basketball set up to a volleyball set up with the push of an icon.

Field House 

PHOTO BY WILLIAM MANNING PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Level Up Storage. Storing volleyball nets and stands in the ceiling keeps the floor surface clear and reduces wear and tear.

Get Everyone Involved

With all the options available in field house design, it is important to clearly understand your goals for the facility. This means getting all stakeholders together during the planning and design process. When building your team, think outside the typical collection of athletic directors and coaches. For example, during the design of the new Center Grove High School Student Activity Center in Greenwood, Indiana, the design team interviewed robotics teachers about their programs and needs. The teachers’ input resulted in wider service doors to support the transfer of robotics equipment. As a result, the field house is able to host robotics competitions, as well as track, basketball, volleyball and other activities.

The openness of a field house makes it the perfect flexible space. The right planning and design strategies will enhance that flexibility and benefit all students, student-athletes and community members.

About the Author

Steve Herr, AIA, LEED-AP, is director of Design for Fanning Howey, an integrated architecture, interiors and engineering firm specializing in learning environments.