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Design Requirements In The Age of COVID-19

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

A big question moving forward is how COVID-19 will affect health club design. That will depend on whether a cure or vaccine is found in the short term and we can return to operating as we did before (for the most part) or whether it takes much longer for a cure or vaccine to be found, meaning physical distancing will be a critical new design variable.

Design involves space and people in a space, what people can do in a space and how they can move around in a space.

The evolving trend with club design is that design follows a business plan or business model. As a result of the business model, decisions are made about what facilities (spaces and sizes) and programs will be necessary to support the model. For example, the high-volume low-price (HVLP) model requires enough space to support the volume that is needed to justify the low price.

Current clubs are operating with an existing amount of space and whatever business model they are working with. The plan assumed projected usage and projected number of members paying projected dues and fees to produce projected profits.

Now COVID comes along, adding a bizarre variable to the people and space component of design. This variable is either suggested or mandated by local or state governments. Now people must be apart in a space to help prevent spread of COVID-19.

Six feet apart seems to be the norm, but in some states (such as California prior to clubs being closed again in many counties), 14 feet is required unless a barrier is placed between each piece of equipment. Some states or cities are allowing only so many people in a club at a certain time. In some markets, locker room use and group exercise classes are not allowed. The same may apply to pools, saunas and other amenities.

Few if any business plans created prior to COVID-19 allowed for such physical distancing. Most clubs now are in survival mode: get open, existing members to return, get new members to join and hope this all ends soon so the volume of people can once again produce healthy profits.

The above review is the foundation for future club design. The question is not what is the design for dealing with COVID 19. Instead, it is what will be the business models that can profitably deal with COVID 19? Design will then follow. However, design and space requirements will play a more important role than ever in deciding how a model would work. For example, normal spacing for 50 pieces of cardio equipment requires approximately 2,300 square feet for the cardio layout. Spacing units six feet apart now results in only 24 units being in the space. If you keep the same quantity of 50 pieces with social distancing, you would need approx. 5,000 square feet instead of 2,300 square feet.

It should be noted this social distancing design variable pertains to any type of club whether it be a large full-service facility, HVLP or boutiques.

Moving forward, whether or not a cure or vaccine is found, here are six design components that should be part of any new club design or renovation.

Cleanliness. People will be looking for safety, but club environments also will need to be exciting and inviting. Creating a first impression of a spacious, freshly cleaned and well-lit environment is important. Softer and lighter paint colors tend to convey a “cleaner” space. Attractive sanitizing stations should be visible in the lobby and throughout every part of the club. Clutter is bad energy; people want to experience “clean energy,” so well thought-out storage at the front desk and throughout the club is a must. If needed, desks should be large enough to have more than one check-in point.

Screening. Infrared fever screening systems (IFSS) in the lobby are a must, but if a cure is found, these will eventually fade away.

Touchless. The entry doors ideally should be automatic or use some other type of hands-free option (automatic, foot or arm operated). In fact, anything that can be touchless or hands free should be. This includes sign in, payment terminals, doors, toilets, sinks, urinals and drinking fountains

Air quality. Air quality (HVAC system) has to improve. In most clubs, indoor air is made up of about 25 percent of outside air. The rest is recirculated and filtered, meaning it’s already been breathed by other occupants. If indoor air is not regularly exchanged, it can contain greater levels of pollutants than outside air. As a result, experts recommend at least 20-30 air exchanges per hour for health clubs. The use of ultraviolet C germicidal irradiation lights (UV-C) placed in duct work or with indoor air-cleaners will most likely increase substantially. These units have been around for years and widely used by hospitals to kill bacteria and germs and many studies show they kill coronaviruses.

Antimicrobial materials. Many building materials and finishes are created using antimicrobial technology and will increasingly become the norm. These types of finishes are made with coatings that work to keep surfaces cleaner and from multiplying bacteria. They include paints, door hardware, laminates, metal finishes, rubber flooring, carpet and porcelain tile.

Communication. It is a must that club operators create beautiful posters or digital marketing that promotes all the club does to make a safe environment (hand-washing, cleaning, disinfecting, touch free, air quality, antimicrobial materials, etc.) and how both staff and members should work together to achieve a safer place.

Designing a health club in this point in time involves a variable that clubs have never had to deal with before. Yet, clubs are resilient primarily because those in the industry have such a love and passion for what they do. The challenge is great and whether COVID 19 leaves or stays, creative solutions will be found to move forward – and clubs will play a more important role in a community than ever before. As the old saying goes, “the darkest hour is just before dawn”. COVID 19 is forcing clubs to be better than ever and the new Golden Age of health clubs is not too far in the future.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, May 2020.