There was a time when a fitness facility could survive — even thrive — as a box with some equipment. But in today's climate, facilities have to offer more than four walls and some equipment.

Following are five facilities that are unique, innovative and part of their communities.

Aggieland Fitness Dome

It's not often that a health club takes on the status of a landmark in a city, but that's what has happened with Aggieland Fitness Dome in College Station, TX. Members often say they are going to “the Dome” to workout, and everyone in this town of 68,000 people knows where they mean.

“We've become the dome people,” says Steve Lumpee, owner of Aggieland Fitness Dome.

It's no wonder. Lumpee's club, which opened in January, has a distinctive design. It sits under a 124-foot diameter dome constructed of concrete. Lumpee discovered the dome design while surfing the Internet for an unusual look for his new club. After deciding on the dome design, he enlisted the aid of his architect, R. L. Payne & Associates Inc.; his contractor, Panattoni Construction; and Dome Technologies of Idaho Falls, ID, a company that has built dome-structured high schools, churches and other public buildings but never a health club. The dome is made of concrete in a complex process that involves plywood, spraying on concrete, attaching a tarp with a metal ring and expanding it with air pressure before spraying in insulation, attaching rebar and spraying another layer of concrete to create the structure.

Lumpee has owned two larger clubs but wanted to scale down with this club. Because he knew he wouldn't be the largest club in town, he wanted to be unique as a way to attract members and receive free advertising. So far, his plan seems to have worked.

“Before we opened, people knew what we were and where we were,” says Lumpee. The unique-looking structure, which is actually twice as big inside as it appears on the outside, attracted a lot of questions during construction, and the local paper even ran a story about the club, helping to build the buzz.

People often tell Lumpee that his gym is great even though they haven't stepped inside it.

“So [people] are promoting [the club] without even coming in,” says Lumpee.

The dome design is so distinctive that Lumpee has been approached about opening other clubs with this design and possibly franchising.

“It was a good decision to get the uniqueness,” says Lumpee.

Not only does the dome offer members a unique atmosphere, but it also offers them the pride of knowing that they are making history as the first members of the first monolithic dome fitness center.

“The attention to detail and the experience makes it a workout that they can't get anywhere else,” says Lumpee. The club not only offers exercise equipment from 14 companies, but the center of the dome offers a 24-foot diameter ceiling fan that is reversed to pull air up.

The only downside to the dome design is that the shape makes for fantastic acoustics, which may be great in a performance hall but can be loud in a gym. To tone down the sounds of equipment clanking, music playing and people talking, Lumpee had an acoustic panel installed that drops down six feet to eight feet from the ceiling.

“I would do it again in a minute,” Lumpee says about opening the dome facility. “These buildings…their life spans are measured in centuries not years. It's cool to know that something that you built will last a lifetime.”

Club: Aggieland Fitness Dome
Location: College Station, TX
Web site:
www.aggielandfitness.com
Owner: Steve Lumpee
Square footage: 14,500
Number of members: 1,200
Architect: R. L. Payne & Associates Inc.
Date of club opening: Jan. 15, 2004
Cost of construction: $1.74 million

SIDE NOTE: Members at Aggieland Fitness Dome don't come here for group fitness because that's one thing that Lumpee didn't make room for under the dome — and that was on purpose.

His research had shown him that — unlike many parts of the country if not all of it — group fitness was trending out in his area, which is filled with upper middle class people ranging from stay-at-home moms, business people and retirees.

“It looks like we've made the right decision because we haven't had a handful of people who haven't joined because they want to do group fitness,” says Lumpee. “You explain that the aerobics classes don't always give them what they want. Strength and cardio will do the same and allows them to do it on their own time.”

The Gym of the Rockies

Sometimes Mother Nature saves the day. Take The Gym of the Rockies for instance. The owner had purchased this former tennis club housed in two separate Quonset hut-style buildings and had turned it into a health club. In March 2003, renovations to one of the buildings came to a grinding halt when a late winter snowstorm dumped too much snow on the roof, collapsing it. No one was hurt, which was one blessing, but another was that the collapse actually allowed the owner, Cliff Buchholz, to design a completely different club — one more to his liking, says Chris Ramers, general manager at The Gym of the Rockies.

The original metal structure didn't allow for a second story in the renovation. Once Mother Nature took care of demolition, Buchholz and his architects rethought the layout and the architects got busy designing a whole new second structure that allowed for a second story and more space for members.

The new, 25,000-square-foot space includes three new aerobics rooms (cycling, mind/body and group fitness), an elevated running track, a cardio area and a child care area. The multiple exercise rooms addressed a member need for more fitness classes and the childcare area helped the club attract and serve family memberships. In addition, the renovation allowed the club to double its cardio equipment area.

The old portion of the facility houses a cardio area, locker rooms, all the free weights, machine weights, offices and a coffee shop. It also houses a rock climbing wall, but not just any climbing wall. The 6,000-square-foot wall is annually ranked in the top three in Colorado. The wall was designed with no separation between it and the workout area so members can lift weights, run and do other cardio while watching climbers on the wall.

Ramers counts the rock climbing wall and the glu laminate (tongue and groove cedar planks) roof as the two most unique design elements of the club. The rock-climbing wall sits below the arched glu laminate roof in one area.

While the facility was originally two buildings, a new entrance designed with a barn or shed look (complete with red paint, cedar wood and the appearance of a tin roof) unifies the old Quonset hut-style building with the new, state-of-the-art building. The blended look fits well in the industrial park where the facility is located amidst warehouse-style buildings.

The interior of the old side is decorated with the glu lam. Colors are deep rust and black to give it a darker, warmer feeling, Ramers says. The color theme in the new half is the same, but the glu lam isn't there because the cost to do so today would be prohibitive. The interior design is open and free spirited, which sits well with the outdoor-minded members of the club.

The club also has a raised cardio area of about 4,000 square feet that appears to be suspended in the gym. It sits about mid way up the climbing wall so members are raised from the floor and have a direct view of the climbers.

Other items of interest are little touches that come with a new design, such as rounded corners that give the gym a more home-like and less industrial feel, large cut-out viewing areas to watch court sports and minimize excess traffic while games are being played and a padded indoor running track.

Many of those touches — little or big — may not have been there had it not been for the havoc wrought by Mother Nature. It may not be good to mess around with Mother Nature, but sometimes it's good when she messes around with you.

Club: The Gym of the Rockies
Location: Ft. Collins, CO
Web site:
www.thegymoftherockies.com
Owner: Cliff Buchholz
Square footage: 50,000
Number of members: 2,700
Architect: Vaught Frye
Date expansion/rebuilt section opened: Feb. 2, 2004.
Cost of the expansion: $1.38 million

Lakeshore Athletic Club-Flatiron

In a 150,000-square-foot facility, one might think that space is abundant and perhaps wasted here or there, but that's far from the truth at Lakeshore Athletic Club-Flatiron where even the roof serves multiple purposes.

The facility, opened in affluent and family-oriented Broomfield, CO (between Boulder and Denver) in November, already has attracted 5,000 members.

“Whatever they want to do, they can do here,” says David Coffey, general manager at Lakeshore Athletic Club-Flatiron. “The pinnacle we have is very challenging. The group classes are second to none. The instructors in the area are fabulous. Our food and beverage is very heart-healthy, organic food. The kids program is marvelous.”

It does seem that the club owners and architect thought of everything. The designer used every bit of space in the facility — including the roof, which houses a children's playground and three tennis courts.

One of the more spectacular parts of the club is the three-story vaulted entry area with a curved metal ceiling. This area includes a pinnacle or rock climbing wall and a waterfall. The climbing pinnacle includes an 8-foot-high bouldering area where users can move side to side instead of up and down. These features are important in this part of the country where rock climbing and cycling are popular, especially since many world-class athletes including triathletes live and train in the area.

To get into the club, members can choose one of three entry points — the main entrance, the Kidshore entrance and the outdoor pool/water park entrance, which is only used in the summer.

Because Broomfield is a family-oriented city, Lakeshore dedicated 10,000 square feet to the Kidshore area, which includes a gym with a unique floor that allows for roller skating. Children in the Kidshore program have access to their own pathway to the family locker rooms so they don't have to go through the club. Parents can keep an eye on their children in the Kidshore area from individual televisions on the cardio equipment.

Lakeshore offers four group exercise rooms — cycling, yoga, Pilates, and large group exercise — that are individually climate controlled. The yoga room has shelves for candles and a rock feature, which is made of the same material as the pinnacle. The cycling room design is circular with fans and projection televisions on the wall so members can cycle while images are projected on the wall. The aerobics room includes a large area for equipment storage.

The two indoor pools are kept at different temperatures. One of the pools is sloped from side to side making 25 meters of slope instead of five lanes of slope. The other indoor pool has a rock-climbing feature that is a waterfall. The outdoor pool has a concession area and a water park with a slide (and an option for a second slide in the future). The outdoor pool also has zero depth entry and an outdoor Jacuzzi with a gas fire pit next to it.

The club has other special touches, such as curved walls, glass blocks in the Jacuzzi area, direct access from the locker rooms to the spa, a couple's treatment room in the spa, natural material and a Zen water feature in the spa, a relaxation area and an enclosed changing room in the locker room, digital locks on the lockers, a television in the sauna, and a shower in the steam room.

“I've traveled the country,” says Coffey. “There isn't anything as beautiful as this club. I opened up a club in the 1970s that was similar to this, but that was a club of the 1970s. This is a club of the 2000s.”

Club: Lakeshore Athletic Club-Flatiron
Location: Broomfield, CO
Web site:
www.lsacflatiron.com
Owner: Lakeshore Management Group (George and Walter Kaiser)
Square footage: 150,000
Number of members: 1,900 memberships (about 5,000 members)
Architect: Ohlson-Lavoie
Date of club opening: November 2003
Cost of construction: $30 million

Club One

What do you get when you take the best of the outdoors and bring it inside? Well, if you are Club One, you get Club One at Santana Row, the company's new model for all of its existing and future clubs.

Located on the third floor of its San Jose, CA building, Club One at Santana Row was designed to bring the beauty and sensation of the local outdoors inside the club, according to the company.

The 30,000-square-foot facility, which was designed by Gensler and built by Principal Builders of San Francisco in less than six months — construction was completed two weeks ahead of schedule and 2 percent under budget — uses natural light and other elements. Furthermore, throughout the facility Club One and Gensler make ample use of natural slate floors, bamboo wall coverings, river rock accents and a custom trail map highlighting cycling, hiking and horseback riding trails from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Bay to highlight the outside-in design.

“This club represents our new model site and combines high-end architecture and interiors with cutting-edge fitness. We've combined beautiful aesthetics with top-notch fitness programs that we believe will offer a truly unique fitness club environment for our members,” says Jill Kinney, co-founder and director of new business development for Club One, which is headquartered in nearby San Francisco. “We are in the process of renovating our existing clubs to match this model and are also developing two new model sites this year and expect to add two to three new clubs per year going forward.”

The company says that members can even enjoy a view of the Santa Cruz Mountains while relaxing in the spa lounge or take an early morning yoga class on an open-air roof deck. The secondary Circular Skyline Lounge comes replete with overstuffed leather chairs and aromatherapy. Meanwhile, the oversized treatment rooms have natural hardwood floors, Bolon matting rugs, walls and window coverings and Asian art.

Topping off the club, literally, is a 1,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed deck that offers a 360-degree view of the coastal range and downtown San Jose.

“We designed a comfortable space with plenty of natural light, colors and textures while incorporating state-of-the-art technology into the air ventilation system, spa treatment area and locker rooms,” says Charlie Kridler, vice president of Gensler of the elememts that went into the design of the club. “We are pleased to team up with Club One and are very proud of the outcome.”

Club: Club One, Santana
Row Location: San Jose, CA
Web site:
www.clubone.com
Owner: Club One
Square footage: 30,000
Number of members: 4,200
Architect: Gensler San Francisco; lead architect, Zsofia Kondor; interior designer, Alison Carr
Date of club opening: Jan. 7, 2004
Cost of construction: $6.3 million

The Paseo Club

Located on eight acres of land set aside for a tennis and swim club, The Paseo Club opened recently in Valencia, CA, a suburb north of Los Angeles. As a newer and fast-growing master-planned community, Valencia is filled with new residents looking for fun and family-oriented recreation activities. Even more important, these young families are looking to strengthen existing friendships and build new social connections.

Accented with beautiful gardens, a covered loggia and a fireplace creating a picturesque setting for parties and other social happenings, The Paseo Club strives to be at the center of its members' social lives. Additionally, Valencia offers a unique 25-mile “paseo” pedestrian pathway system connecting business centers, parks, schools, shopping and recreation centers. The club is adjacent to the Paseo, which helps it tie into the community even further.

Owners Steve McAvoy and Desi McBride were awarded the project and although this is their first shot at building a facility from the ground up, the owners were excited to develop a family-oriented facility that blended the community with the rich history of the area.

“We were determined to build a beautiful club to take advantage of our unique location along the San Francisquito Creek; we didn't want a cookie-cutter design,” says McAvoy of the club's decision to utilize the designs it did. “The concept of a Spanish-style hacienda seemed to bring together the history of Valencia, the physical location, the desired relaxed resort atmosphere, and the high design look we wanted to achieve.”

The Paseo Club is located along the western bank of the San Francisquito Creek, which is dry for the most part but has beautiful natural trees and landscape. This serves as a scenic backdrop and focal point for the club and its various amenities including tennis, swimming and traditional fitness areas.

The main clubhouse features a gallery, which leads to an exercise room with a dramatic, 20-foot-high ceiling. Directly to the south is a covered loggia with an outdoor fireplace. Along the western side of the building is a covered, tiled veranda, which leads to the Kids Corner.

Despite these architectural highlights, the architect for the project, EBTA Architects, felt that using a center court aspect among the 15 tennis courts was vital to the success of the design.

“We decided to go away from the traditional box that so many facilities are focused around [and instead designed] the historic hacienda feel to The Paseo Club right down to the covered loggia, which serves as an outside living room,” says Amat Tajudi a principal at EBTA, which has had some experience in the health club industry. “But building a true center court with food, a garden setting and other attributes helps to turn the Paseo Club from just another tennis and health facility to a place where the community can gather for meetings, events, tournaments, even weddings.”

Just to prove that point, McAvoy is getting married there later this year.

Club: The Paseo Club
Location: Valencia, CA
Web site:
www.thepaseoclub.com
Owner: Steve McAvoy and Desi McBride
Square footage: 8 acres (indoor fitness facility is 12, 500 square feet)
Number of members: 670
Architect: EBTA Architects
Date of club opening: Nov. 18, 2003
Cost of construction: $7 million