Winds Of Change

“Our usage the first three months was unparalleled to anything I had ever seen, with 2,000 to 3,000 users per day. After that calmed down, then we got into the groove of what we needed to do to make sure we staffed correctly for the demand,” recalls DeSimine. “For six weeks our managers worked a minimum of 12 hours a day just trying to cover themselves for the rush of the new members.”

DeSimine adds that it’s hard to get all of the documentation and planning in place quickly and so close to the opening deadline.

“Once you open the doors you’re so focused on tackling one hurdle after another that comes up within operations that those things tend to get pushed aside,” says DeSimine.

Items like crowd control and lines, resident verification (the center is only open to residents for the time being), program costs and room rental policies need time to be hashed out and come together as mutually-agreed-upon policy.

“When a facility is in the news as much as our facility was it’s important to get the pre-sales and touring in ahead of your opening date, preferably six months out from opening. We were swamped the first day. We had five lines with hour waits in each line just to buy a pass. It was a great problem to have, but certainly some people got a little upset at the wait,” says DeSimine.

DeSimine has implemented an electronic funds transfer system where people can make automatic ongoing payments, eliminating the need to sign up 11,000 people at the front desk each year. He says about 33 percent have been converted to this type of membership, which will help alleviate the pressure on the front desk come March, when most of the memberships expire.

DeSimine says the city had a great idea to have open houses for all the local schools, with each night dedicated to a different school.

“Once word got out that the facility was open, and the local newspaper misquoted the times the facility would be open for pre-opening tours, all hell broke out. The week before opening we were constantly turning people away. If we had a little more cooperation from the press, we might’ve been able to pull that plan off a little bit better,” says DeSimine.

“It was a good plan, but it got lost when the newspaper printed that the center would be open all day. We were open from 6-10 p.m. for the schools, which got misconstrued on a front-page story, and of course the retraction’s on page 10 or so.”

White and the city’s officials learned some important lessons from their tour of Denver-area super centers, foremost of which was to tour other facilities.

The tour allowed them to talk to operators, patrons and community leaders about their facilities — what they liked and didn’t like, and what they had learned over the course of their operations.

“We really wanted to get our arms around what it would cost to operate. You can easily quantify the costs to build, but the operational costs and benefits of the facility cannot always be quantified,” says White. “The best question we asked everywhere we went was, ‘If you could do it over again what would you do differently?’”

White says the number one response was to up-size the family locker rooms, which he says are very important to families with young children and people with disabilities.

Other items on the list of things they found that some of the Denver-area centers would do differently in hindsight were a larger community gathering space in the front atrium, and increased gymnasium and fitness space. As White says, “When you have an active boys’ and girls’ recreation program, the day when one gym would meet those needs is done, particularly when we’re seeing explosive growth in girls’ recreation programs.”

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