Design Alabama
Design Alabama


Athens Gets New Recreation Center

The city of Athens had three objectives for a recreation center: have a distinct civic identity, promote a sense of community and operate as a tax revenue-generating regional destination. The new $14 million Athens Recreation Center was designed by Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) with those goals in mind.

The final outcome? A building that any municipality would be proud to have.

A wide range of amenities are offered in the 71,800-square-foot, two-story building. These include a state-of-the-art competition gym for hosting regional basketball tournaments to promote tourism and generate revenue. Local residents can participate in volleyball, racquetball, basketball, pickleball and other sports. On the second floor is an indoor track that links the atrium to the competition gym.

The running track provides plenty of visual interest. It starts at the front of the atrium, runs over the two basketball courts in the competition gym, around the back of the atrium, by interior windows looking down into the racquetball courts, passes by one of the group fitness rooms, and provides an axial view to the main fitness room as it arrives back at the starting point.

Several fitness rooms contain the latest exercise equipment and there is a concession stand for purchasing drinks and snacks. In addition, a large community room, meeting spaces, classrooms and staff offices. Multi-purpose recreational fields for soccer, flag football and other activities surround the center. The eight-acre property also includes a playground, tennis courts, beach volleyball courts and an outdoor trail system.

The new recreation center is located in the existing sports complex that includes baseball/softball fields, soccer fields, swimming pool, playground and disc golf course. In addition to the new building, the project includes tennis courts, a multi-purpose artificial turf field and a sand volleyball court.

The context for the project is a small, friendly town experiencing rapid growth with industries moving to the area to support the high-tech sector of the Huntsville region, notes project architect Richard Simonton. He and his team designed the facility to be a hub that fosters existing community relationships, attracts new residents and provides an exciting destination for visiting sports teams.

“The main design challenge was to organize the recreational spaces within the building so that the experience of community among groups using the building was enhanced rather than just providing a place for people to participate in an exercise class or play basketball,” Simonton explains. “This was accomplished by creating strong visual and physical connections between spaces and providing social areas within the building’s circulation space.”

The building is organized around the interaction of the indoor track on level two with the double-story Grand Hall that bisects the building from north to south. Walking or running on the track provides multiple spatial experiences as well as views to most of the recreational complex. The design allows for multiple opportunities for encountering friends and neighbors – an aspect that reinforces the sense of a close-knit community.

Athens Parks and Recreation Director Bert Bradford reports that the center is proving to be an even greater success than expected. People line up to get in when the center opens at 5 a.m. and are playing volleyball on the sand courts late into the night. And the community room has been used for everything from a voting site to wedding receptions and dulcimer lessons.

The covered entry is a contemporary interpretation of a neoclassical portico. Materials include exposed steel, composite metal panels, curtainwall, brick and EIFS.

View from level one under the track looking south. Glass walls looking into racquetball court can be seen on left.  Contrary to its name, the Grand Hall is designed to be an informal space.

View from the primary southwest approach. The backlit polycarbonate volume with large scale signage provides visibility and identity.  The entrance portico takes visitors into the Grand Hall, and the orange accent wall provides a visual termination from entry approach and organizes the interior spaces.

The competition gym is designed to accommodate basketball tournaments that bring additional hotel and restaurant tax revenue to the city.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Edward Badham


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