With the development of the York Recreation Centre, the City of Toronto is serving a previously underserved community by using a previously underused site.
The 70,000-square-foot facility houses a fitness centre, dance studios, running and walking track, swimming pools and teaching kitchen, among other amenities. Produced by Perkins+Will, its park pavilion-inspired design responds to its surrounds of the Black Creek and Keelesdale North Park with a façade featuring composite metal panels and forest green-coloured glazing.
The project, recently completed at a construction cost of $27 million, dates back just before amalgamation of the municipalities that now make up Toronto. It was championed by Ward 11 York South-Weston Councillor Frances Nunziata, who was mayor of the City of York at the time, and Ward 12 York South-Weston Councillor Frank Di Giorgio.
The City of Toronto evaluated three sites for the York Recreation Centre, eventually selecting a brownfield owned by Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.
“We [the City of Toronto] don’t have money to be buying land, so we were looking at some land that we could acquire relatively inexpensively,” said Doug Giles, senior project coordinator for the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division.
A consultant identified the site where the facility would ultimately be built as the preferred option, despite some challenges. For one, it was a forgotten playing field-turned-repository for dumping fill, old concrete and telephone poles, so it required remediation. For another, portions of the site overlapped with the Black Creek flood plain, so the plans required approval from the Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) to proceed.
“It’s kind of a picturesque site being so close to the Black Creek,” said Giles. “And because that site was governed by TRCA control and approval, everyone was trying to create something that was sympathetic to its natural environment.”
He pointed to the way the architects camouflaged the rooftop mechanical systems by recessing the equipment below the plane of the inclined green roof as an example of this effort.
The TRCA-approved plans involved fortifying the creek bank to prevent erosion and siting the facility outside the flood plain anticipated in the event of a worst-case-scenario storm.
The community had an important hand in shaping the design and programming of the recreation centre, actively participating in focus groups and town halls. Public input prompted the architects to add further program elements, including a running track and a mezzanine viewing gallery for the pool, and customize existing program elements.
“The youth groups were very clear about a gym that didn’t feel like a high school gym that was much more open to the spaces around it,” recalled architect Duff Balmer, design principal, Perkins+Will. “There were issues around safety and visibility — both around the building and within the centre — that were of concern to this community and to these neighbourhoods.”
Sweeping glazing, both interior and exterior, creates transparency between different spaces.
This gives the gym, pool and track visibility from outside as well as opportunities for daylighting. In the case of the pool, motorized blinds and coloured clerestory glazing counteract glare, which could otherwise obscure the views of lifeguards, Balmer explained.
The blinds and coloured glazing also support the passive dehumidification strategies employed in the pool area by lowering the load on the dehumidification system. Sized for four air changes per hour, the system helps pre-heat the pool with recovered heat, which cuts operating costs. Balmer said other considerations included selecting durable finishes and materials capable of withstanding the extra strain that comes with the energy-efficient conditioning of the space.
The pool is served by two universal (non-gender-specific) change rooms with fully enclosed changing stalls, which allowed for the application of glazing to the walls separating the change room area from the corridor. This visibility discourages incidents such as theft of personal belongings by improving passive supervision, Giles explained, and the visibility of the showers from the pool deck signals that bathing suits are to be worn when rinsing off, Balmer added. Plus, they said, the universal change rooms are easier to maintain, because staff of either gender can enter, and having two makes it possible to close one for cleaning or other upkeep.
Balmer said Toronto is leading the way with this model, which the city first introduced at the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, but other municipalities appear poised to follow suit. Universal change rooms are the logical progression of the trend toward increasingly large family change rooms, he suggested.
“It’s more inclusive for a lot of the ethnic groups that are using this facility,” Balmer observed. “It addresses a lot of the modesty concerns that have been coming up.”
Not only was the York Recreation Centre designed with the community it now serves in mind, but the revitalization of the brownfield coincided with broader transformation occurring in the area.
Serendipitously, the staging of the tunneling for the close-by Eglinton Crosstown light rapid transit (LRT) tunnel brought with it a bridge, said Balmer. Constructed across Black Creek by Metrolinx partway through the project, it connects Keelesdale South Park/Chris Tonks Arena to the recreation centre site, allowing improved vehicle access as well as the sharing of parking capacity.
With this important link in place, York Recreation Centre has opened its doors after many years in the making.
“It’s always very busy and well-used,” reported Giles. “I have to think the community is embracing it after such a long wait.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.