Top Ten Mistakes Made in Gymnasium Design and Construction

Learn from others' mistakes to avoid expensive retrofits and upgrades in your next sports facility project.

Careful planning, measuring, and communicating now can keep your project under budget. These are ten mistakes to watch for, when you are designing and constructing your gymnasium:

1. Not planning for future expansion

Have you noticed that the pace of change in the sports industry is increasing exponentially? One day you’re building a simple basketball facility, and next year you might be adding an NCAA emerging sport to the schedule in the same facility.

Or, a new coach might require matching practice facilities for his or her team or your athletic director may have a donor with interest in expansion to boost recruiting. Clearly, you want your new facility to meet the needs of your program now and for many years to come. Even if your budget is small, architects can design in features to allow for cost-effective future expansion if you visit with them about your organization’s interest in growth and industry trends.

2. Not considering flexible spaces that could boost revenue

Wouldn’t it be great to host major funders at your own facility or, better yet, rent out your facility to the community as an entertainment venue? Many gymnasiums serve dual- or multi-purposes with banquet facilities, locker rooms, and spectator facilities under one roof. If your organization sees this as a benefit, work with your design committee to incorporate these features into the blueprints.

3. Cutting corners on equipment to save money

With relatively inexpensive long-term financing available, considering the life cycle of the equipment you purchase should be a primary concern. Replacing equipment can not only be an unwelcome operating budget concern in the early years before the facility is out of the red, but is also a safety and liability concern.

No one needs to buy the most expensive option for each item, but looking at warranties and specifying trusted manufacturers with a track record in the industry can be crucial to your facility’s bottom line. Examples include ordering fixed rims instead of breakaway basketball goals or glue-on backboard padding instead of molded bolt-on padding. These incremental decisions may cost three times more than the economy option but an extra $1,000 now may save replacement equipment and labor expense later.

4. Not designing the building with adequate support to hang goals

Ask your building manufacturer or a structural engineer if adding steel specifically for ceiling-suspended equipment such as basketball goals is recommended. Including the necessary support structure in your initial project can save money and increase product satisfaction. You don’t want to be the one to explain why your projected grand opening must be delayed to allow for modifications and additions, plus the added expense of keeping the crew onsite can often be avoided with careful planning.

5. Ignoring minimum ceiling height requirements for ceiling and wall suspended systems

It isn’t rocket science: Moving parts move. Imagine the spaces in front of, to the rear of, and on either side of the equipment you are hoping to include in your facility. For example, if you want rear braced systems, you will need adequate room without interference behind the backboards and goals. Support braces and cabling will also need to be taken into account, so accurate measurements and building design documents are critical.

6. Ordering too late (timing is everything)

In spite of everyone’s best intentions, sometimes things fall between the proverbial cracks. When this happens, contractors’ schedules may not allow for modification regardless of the fact that your equipment cannot be delivered on the original schedule. Add to your calendar the dates for final approval of design documents, confirm delivery dates with your contractor or directly with the manufacturer, and ask for tracking information for the shipment.

Custom equipment that is built to your specifications will often require two or three months from your purchase order and approval. Transit times, especially in the winter, can be as long as two weeks and not every item can be shipped using an expedited small package carrier, so plan accordingly.

7. Skipping the shipment inspection

Missing hardware, damaged finishes, and split shipments are a frustrating reality when heavy, bulky equipment is shipped across the country. It’s a green concept that is also practical: order from a nearby regional manufacturer to save fuel and expense but also reduce the likelihood of damage. Reputable manufacturers should consider the most direct routes for your shipment but mistakes and losses still happen. The best time to learn of a freight-related problem is before signing for the shipment. The worst time is as the installer is on scaffolding trying to install the equipment.

8. Over- or under-communicating with the manufacturer

Remember the popular game of telephone when you were a kid? Multiply the number of cans, strings, and ears by 50-100 and you have a pretty standard sized team for most sports facility construction projects. While the manufacturer of any custom equipment may not be interested in every design change, be sure to communicate anything related to the structure, ceiling, and walls if they are providing equipment that will attach to these surfaces. Even if you are ordering all portable sports equipment, the flooring and slope may affect the suitability of equipment.

9. Ignoring expert advice

Your coaches likely have experience with many types of sports equipment and your facility manager will know the pitfalls and benefits of equipment currently in your building.

Maybe competing coaches have complimented you or chastised you about the locker rooms or the playability of your equipment. Leading manufacturers are outfitting sports facilities of many types every day and can be another source of advice as you sort through what is important to you and your audiences. Listening to industry experts is a best practice you’ll hear from those who have achieved the facility ribbon-cutting phase before.

10. Not enjoying the final result

There may not be a gold statue in the entryway commemorating your involvement in this gymnasium construction project. However, pat yourself on the back for contributing to not only your organization but also your community. Sports is growing in importance in tourism budgets and tax revenue is a much-talked about benefit as well.

But, even a K-6 school with only parents as spectators serves a noble purpose and provides opportunities for fun, team-building, and future careers. Make time to get out to events at your new facility, sit down and immerse yourself in what you have created. As they say, you get out of it what you put in.

About the Author
Nik Ditzler lends his background in engineering, product design, customer satisfaction, and business development to Bison, Inc. and IPI by Bison as Director of Specified Products.  Since 1985, this Nebraska-based company has manufactured sporting goods equipment for schools, park districts, rec centers and clubs. The author is available at or 800-637-7968.