Dream to Reality

One of the great loves of a camp director is planning for the future in programming and facility development. I have always advised camp directors to make lists and goal sheets and to grow your program with your facility.

Recently, I have had two experiences that have helped clarify for me the right way to plan the future of a facility and the camp.

Participating as a camping consultant I watched one camp go through its master planning process, and as a customer I experienced working with a professional architect firm in planning the future of our facility.

What I learned more than anything is how to organize the multiple levels of input that you need, not only for the planning, but later on the support for the plan. Too many times directors move forward with their exclusive vision and spend an eternity trying to sell it.

When we can take our vision and guide others to see and be part of it, they may even slightly alter our vision to make it better, but the point is to place the kids and facility first to gain success.

Steps in the Journey

There are important steps and questions that must be followed to assure a successful master planning process. Here are some of them: What type of plan are we doing (purely conceptual, or goal-oriented conceptual)? How have we involved volunteers, alumni, management and strong supporters? Have we addressed major concerns before the formal planning session? What preparation work has been completed? Have we supplied our hired assistance with the right information? Does the plan support the program plan? Do we have a program plan?

We decided a year ago to hire an architectural firm to take us through the conceptual master planning process. There are many such firms and they offer a variety of services, from drawings, master planning, prices, facilitation, and more.

We decided to hire a firm to do a conceptual master plan using a two-day charrette approach. The guiding goal of the charrette was to develop ideas that we wanted to accomplish within the next ten years. We decided to do all the pre-planning on our own to develop the vision, wants, needs and more.

This framing of the parameters proved to be very important. There are many master planning sessions that are held with the idea of a purely conceptual, no-limits (either to the imagination or in regard to resources) session to support the plan. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were always true? In truth, it is really rare that the conceptual plans done under these parameters actually happen. Usually, one or two ideas from the entire project design are accomplished, if you’re lucky.

The importance of the pre-planning responsibility so we didn’t waste the precious two days with the architects was huge. We wanted to be prepared and we wanted them to have a great idea of who we were before they arrived. To accomplish this we decided on a ten-step approach.

Step One: Plan the program.

It is essential before you build anything that you know what you are building for. Trend research is great for future growth, but start with your own character and history.

A year earlier, we held multiple staff, board, and combined staff and board retreats. The design of the retreats was to discuss the future programming goals for the facility.

We met and discussed many times what we did well, what we didn’t do well, what programming we should be involved with, and ideas about future programming. Program, program, program was the focus. No attention at all was given to the facility or construction needs at this time.

More importantly, the decision on programming was not decided in one meeting or retreat. We revisited the plans of three years ago, discussed the current plans and the history of programming at the facility and then discussed the future.

Too many times in camping we build to build and figure in the old adage, “If you build it they will come.” Why not change it to, “Build what they need and they will for sure come!” That was our goal. Let’s not build and then change the program to meet the new facility, let’s plan the program growth and need and then build to give them what they want at the highest possible quality.

Poll your parents, guests, current children, and if you have access get some trend research. What is hot and what is coming up? All of this will help you with designing your future program.

Once we had a good feel for the past, current and future programming as we saw it for the facility we were ready to evaluate our own facility.

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