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					     Facility development

The Summit:
How Grand Prairie created its
‘country club for the 50-plus’

The Summit’s indoor
walking track overlooks
the swimming pool and
gymnasium, with windows
                                   Developed to replace the                    facility. A flood of visits followed. And by
to the outside providing
                                   local seniors center, The                   the end of June, less than two weeks after
views of the park
                                   Summit Adult Activity                       the grand opening, Summit membership
                                   Center boasts a country-                    stood at about 3,800.
                                   club feel and an impressive
                                   array of amenities                          The journey that culminated in The
                                                                               Summit’s opening began years earlier,
                                   by Jenifer Milner                           however, with the City’s decision to
                                                                               replace the existing seniors center. The
                                   When the City of Grand Prairie, Texas,      8,000-sq.-ft. facility, built in 1987,
                                   officially opened The Summit Adult          “couldn’t keep up with the demands of
                                   Activity Center on June 18, 2010, the       the citizenry due to tremendous growth,”
                                   community was already deeply engaged        states Rick Herold, director of Grand
                                   with this “senior center of tomorrow” and   Prairie Parks and Recreation Department.
                                   eager to participate. Efforts to consult
                                   and communicate with the public about       Located in the busy corridor between
                                   the new venue had helped create a           Dallas and Fort Worth, Grand Prairie
                                   sense of ownership and anticipation in      had been among the fastest-growing
                                   community members over the years, and       cities in Texas for some time, explains
                                   the building’s soft opening on May 22       Herold. Since the original seniors center
                                   allowed them to finally experience the      was constructed, the city’s population

10   ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010
had almost doubled—rising from 90,000
in 1987 to 165,000 in 2008—and the
number of older adults had soared. In
1990, about 12,000 people ages 55-plus
lived in Grand Prairie; by 2007, that
figure was approaching 44,000, with a
projected increase to 63,000 by 2015.
Moreover, a lot of the population growth
had been in the southern part of the city,
Herold notes. This further limited the
usefulness of the existing center, which
was situated on Grand Prairie’s north
side.                                         Grand Prairie’s new 60,000-sq.-ft. facility is located adjacent to a lake and surrounding
                                              boardwalk in Central Park. It is one of two public buildings that ‘anchor’ the 172-acre park
In 2006, with the goal of developing a
venue that would better accommodate           included building a one-storey facility         50-plus population. Comments Herold,
and serve the local community, the City       (which would have made it impossible            “Our vision for the center had evolved
asked voters to approve funding for a         to accommodate all the present features);       with the development process.”
new seniors center through a 1/8-cent         and adding a racquetball court. “We
sales tax. Seventy-six percent of voters      chose instead to put in a large, indoor         Parks and Recreation staff had worked
okayed its passage, says Herold—and the       walking track, which we thought more            hard, too, to educate Park Board
City committed to build a “state-of-the-      people were likely to use regularly,” he        members, elected officials and city leaders
art and ‘timeless’ facility” for its older    explains.                                       about active aging and the impact of
population.                                                                                   the aging Boomer cohort, which are
                                              Visits to other seniors centers in the          reshaping the seniors center landscape
It took four years and $23 million            Dallas-Fort Worth area had a significant        today. Staff research and input from the
to develop the 60,000-sq.-ft. venue.          impact as well. Together with Grand             focus groups had shown that “Boomers
But The Summit eclipses all early             Prairie Park Board members, City                long to be physically stimulated, enjoy
expectations, Herold believes, thanks         Manager Tom Hart, Mayor Charles V.              a wide range of activities, and look for
to the bold vision that emerged for the       England, Mayor Pro Tem Ruthe Jackson            ways to keep fit, while learning in small
building he calls “America’s first public     and some center clients, Parks and              groups; they also long for independence
Baby Boomer facility.”                        Recreation staff started touring “what          and fun,” Herold says. The staff also
                                              we thought were the best public facilities      believed that most Boomers would never
Consulting the community                      built in the state,” says Herold. “We           relate to a “seniors center.” “They may
The first challenge in developing Grand       picked the very best, the newest, the           volunteer at that type of center,” Herold
Prairie’s new center was to create that       most creative facilities—but the mayor,         states, “but chances are they will not
compelling vision. To find out what older     mayor pro tem and city manager thought          become passionate users.” Grand Prairie
adults wanted to see in the facility, Parks   we could, and should, do better for our         needed not just a new facility, but a new
and Recreation staff and board members        community’s active adults.”                     kind of facility. And the entire team
held public forums and focus groups                                                           agreed.
with adults in their 50s and beyond,          Envisioning the venue
according to Herold. One group was            When the team started visiting private          “From Park Board and City Council
composed entirely of clients and users of     facilities, their excitement began to           members, to older adults and Parks
the existing center who were ages 80 and      build. “The City previously made a              and Recreation staff, everyone felt
over, ensuring their views were taken into    commitment to the community that                comfortable with the project’s direction,”
account.                                      when we build facilities, we would make         Herold stresses. “They began to see that
                                              sure they have the ‘wow factor,’” observes      a ‘state-of-the-art facility’ could not
These focus groups provided a lot of          Herold. The facilities they viewed at the       only serve current older adults as well as
useful input. “Of the 39 key components       Frisco Lakes by Del Webb and Robson             the emerging Boomer market, but also
that came out of the focus groups, 37         Ranch active adult communities, for             boost civic pride and stimulate economic
were incorporated into the building,”         example, were much more in line with
Herold states. Suggestions not acted on       what the team wanted for Grand Prairie’s        Continued on page 12

                                                                                                     ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010      11
The Summit: How Grand Prairie created its ‘country
club for the 50-plus’ Continued from page 11
                                                                                            And, to embrace nature, natural stone,
                                                                                            glass, steel, copper and brick construction
                                                                                            was selected.

                                                                                            As designed by Brinkley Sargent, the
                                                                                            floor plan featured a two-storey lobby
                                                                                            with skylights and a stone fireplace, a
                                                                                            café, a movie theater with concession
                                                                                            stand, a crafts room, a member gift shop,
                                                                                            a banquet hall and full kitchen, and an
                                                                                            array of amenities to support physical
                                                                                            activity. These included a large indoor
                                                                                            walking track, a ballroom with stage,
                                                                                            game and Wii rooms, wood-paneled
                                                                                            locker rooms with saunas and private
                                                                                            showers, a natatorium (swimming pool,
                                                                                            exercise vortex pool, hot tub), a wood
                                                                                            gymnasium, and massage and aerobics
                                                                                            rooms. Finally, a 4,000-sq.-ft. fitness
                                                                                            center would be filled with sophisticated
                                                                                            fitness equipment, designed especially to
                                                                                            meet the needs of older users. Chosen
By incorporating such materials as wood and stone, locker rooms at The Summit reinforce     after an exhaustive study, this equipment
the facility’s exclusive country-club feel                                                  has been enthusiastically embraced by
                                                                                            members, some of whom haven’t used
development.” So the center continued         Seeking something shorter and more
                                                                                            fitness equipment for 40 or 50 years,
to transform throughout the process into      dynamic, staff started playing with
                                                                                            Herold reports. (See the sidebar on page
what it is today: “a country club for the     words that meant “power” and “senior.”
                                                                                            20 for a more complete list of amenities
50-plus crowd.”                               Eventually, someone proposed the word
                                                                                            and features.)
Naming the facility                                                                         What were the City’s key considerations
The name for Grand Prairie’s new public       “One of the definitions of summit is ‘at
                                                                                            when choosing The Summit’s amenities?
facility was key to affirming its identity    the peak of your life,’” explains Herold.
                                                                                            “Cost, maintenance and use,” states
as something new—a “seniors center”           “Everyone liked it for the center’s name.
                                                                                            Herold. Final decisions were based on the
unlike any the community had seen. The        It’s powerful and it’s timeless (which the
                                                                                            knowledge of Parks and Recreation staff
question people grappled with was what        mayor wanted), thereby availing us of the
                                                                                            as well as input from focus groups.
to call the venue.                            future. Fortunately, the name passed,” he
                                              states—and the facility officially became
                                                                                            Although there weren’t a lot of unusual
Parks and Recreation staff had helped         known as The Summit. What would
                                                                                            focus group requests, sometimes those
to shift City terminology previously by       truly set this facility apart, though, was
                                                                                            they received didn’t always work, Herold
discussing the changing connotation           its country-club concept and amenities
                                                                                            comments. For example, some older
of the term senior citizen with the Park      package.
                                                                                            members wanted a computer room, but
Board. As soon as the development                                                           the City didn’t want to dedicate a room
process and focus groups started for the      Choosing the amenities
                                                                                            to computers as many younger members
new center, “we dropped the term senior       To create a 50-plus venue that would
                                                                                            would have their own machines. More-
citizen and started using active adult        “transcend” what other public agencies
                                                                                            over, individuals would be able to check
instead,” Herold recalls. “So we were         had built, the City hired Dallas-based
                                                                                            out a laptop computer from the reception
very proud when the Park Board took           architects Brinkley Sargent. The firm,
                                                                                            desk and use the center’s wireless Internet
the lead on the new facility name and         understanding the City’s vision, included
                                                                                            access, if they wished. As a compromise,
City Council understood,” approving           luxurious interior “finish-outs,” such
                                                                                            “we bought 12 computers to keep
Grand Prairie Active Adult Center as the      as woodwork and stone elements, to
building’s working name, he says.             reinforce the building’s country-club feel.   Continued on page 14

12   ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010
The Summit: How Grand Prairie created its ‘country
club for the 50-plus’ Continued from page 12

The Summit’s infinity-edge hot tub accommodates 25 people, encouraging members to socialize while soaking

charged on a docking station, which we        Although still under construction,             not included in the building’s 60,000-sq.-
could store in the closet and bring out       Central Park currently features stone          ft. footprint,” Herold notes, which the
when it was time for classes.”                retaining walls, a fountain, three             facility has harnessed to offer more
                                              waterfalls, and 2.5 miles of boardwalk         amenities.
Flexibility was important. Adds Herold,       surrounding its five lakes. Future plans
“We looked at people’s requests, thought      include a 5,000-sq.-ft. amphitheater, a        Requested during a focus group, a
about the future, and tried to work in        dog park, a large grand lawn, an aquatic       greenhouse is provided for the use of
what they wanted where we could.” That        park, a recreation center, a nature            members who wish to grow plants, with
included the outdoors.                        interpretive center, events and picnic         a public garden behind the structure
                                              pavilions, trails, playgrounds, fishing        available to those who want to grow
Harnessing the outdoors                       piers and public art.                          vegetables outside. Members can use
One of The Summit’s great advantages                                                         the outdoor grill and patio space, which
is its natural setting: Located in the        A wrought iron fence and gate separates        is furnished with lounge furniture and
city’s 172-acre Central Park, the facility    The Summit from the Central Park               includes protective awnings. There is also
overlooks a lake. When The Summit             public boardwalk, providing members            a green space for concerts and outdoor
journey began in 2006, however, little        with easy access to the park for walking.      courts for playing bocce ball, horseshoes
was known about plans for the park,           To gain entry to the center’s grounds, a       and washers (a popular local game).
which developed and evolved at the            member card is needed to open the gate,        Finally, from the pool area, members can
same time as the center, Herold observes.     thereby enhancing members’ feelings of
Today, The Summit is one of two public        security and ownership. Moreover, “there
buildings that “anchor” the park.             are thousands of feet of outdoor space         Continued on page 16

14   ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010
The Summit: How Grand Prairie created its ‘country
club for the 50-plus’ Continued from page 14
exit directly to an outdoor workout and
seating area.

“There’s no question that the outdoor
equipment and upscale seating and
games area contribute to the center’s
wow factor,” Herold affirms. That seems
especially true for Boomers, he adds, who
appear not only to value these outdoor
elements highly, but also to focus more
on the environment overall.

Embracing the environment
In fact, an environmentally-friendly
building design was among the focus
group requests incorporated into plans
for The Summit, according to Herold.
For example, most materials used in the
building were locally sourced, including
the stone. Some other eco-friendly
elements were:                                The gymnasium provides Summit members with a space to play sports such as basketball
                                              and volleyball
•	 concrete	floors
•	 bamboo	flooring	in	the	ballroom
                                              “One of the hardest challenges for the        To meet this challenge, “we’re having to
•	 energy-efficient	lighting
                                              architects was creating a series of awnings   offer programs at varied times,” Herold
•	 plumbing	features	that	use	30%	less	
                                              and architectural features to reflect the     comments—from 5:30 a.m., when the
                                              heat away from the building as much as        center opens to the mostly 50-something
•	 extensive	use	of	recycled	products
                                              possible,” Herold adds—elements that          members who exercise before work; to
•	 solar-powered	lights	on	the	outside	
                                              were	used	extensively.	In	addition,	75%	      the 8 a.m.–4 p.m. time frame, when
                                              of the building’s construction waste was      traditional clients come in to hang out,
•	 outside	irrigation	from	wells
                                              diverted from landfills. To recognize all     have lunch and do things at the center;
                                              these achievements, the City is seeking       to the 4 p.m. to closing period, when the
     Mark your calendar                       Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and           building is filled with mostly Boomers.
                                              Environmental Design) certification
                                              for The Summit from the US Green              Herold admits the staff is stretched, as
     To learn more about how the City of      Building Council.                             there were few new hires for the center.
     Grand Prairie developed The Summit,                                                    Luckily, “a tremendous core of 25 people
     join Rick Herold for his presentation,   Programming across                            are volunteering 20–45 hours a week,”
     “America’s first public Baby Boomer      generations                                   he says. “We are committed to providing
     facility: upclose and unplugged,”        The Summit’s appeal is more than just         every program offered in the old facility,
                                              the physical environment, though. The         plus adding new programs in the evening
     at the Eighth Annual International
                                              facility attracts the 50-year-old first-      and on weekends that may appeal to
     Council on Active Aging Conference       time member who works, says Herold,           both groups.”
     in San Diego, California. This           as well as the 80-year-old traditional
     session will take place on Thursday,     client who used the previous center’s         Interestingly, with the opening of The
     December 2, 2010, from 8 a.m.            nutrition program and now has lunch           Summit, “we have found a great set of
     to 9:30 a.m. For details, visit the      and spends all day at The Summit.             older clients who hadn’t been using the
                                              Both are participating in the facility’s      previous facility, and who see how age-
     “Conference” section of the ICAA
                                              programs. So, for the first time, Parks       friendly the new center is,” notes Herold.
     website,, or call ICAA       and Recreation staff are effectively
     toll-free at 866-335-9777.               programming across the generations.           Continued on page 18

16      ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010
The Summit: How Grand Prairie created its ‘country
club for the 50-plus’ Continued from page 16
                                               Although there are currently about
                                               150 nonresident members, “we have
                                               not put any money into advertising
                                                                                              City of Grand Prairie
                                               the center outside Grand Prairie,” says
                                               Herold. That may change once Parks and
                                               Recreation staff have a better sense of
                                                                                              Grand Prairie Parks and Recreation
                                               where memberships will top out. Herold
                                               believes that number may reach as high
                                               as 6,000 within a couple of years—and
                                               “we don’t want our residents to be unable
                                                                                              “The Making of The Summit” video
                                               to get on a piece of equipment because
                                               someone from another city is using it,”
                                               he emphasizes.

                                               While the previous seniors center had         facility that can accommodate and serve
                                               around 600 active members and 35,000          its age 50-plus population. The building
                                               visits per year, The Summit already           has become a great source of pride in the
                                               has nearly 4,000 paid members and             community, and representatives from
                                               anticipates in excess of 100,000 visits per   more than 45 cities have already visited
                                               year. The City aims to keep membership        the center.
                                               as affordable as possible, with residents
                                               ages 65 and over paying $50 a year and        But going into the project, Mayor
Bamboo flooring was an environmentally-                                                      England had feared “there would be so
                                               those ages 50–64 paying $200 annually.
friendly choice in The Summit’s ballroom.                                                    much excitement about the Boomers that
                                               For nonresidents, the fee is $200 per year
Divisable into three rooms, this large space                                                 we would forget our traditional clients
                                               for individuals ages 65-plus and $500 a
includes a stage, dining area and full                                                       and customers,” Herold observes. He
                                               year for those in the 50–64 age group.
kitchen                                                                                      credits Parks and Recreation staff for
                                               Scholarships are available for those in
                                               need.                                         striving to create a sense of ownership
“It’s been startling,” he admits. But the                                                    in those older adults from the outset.
most compelling thing he’s seen so far has     At these rates, however, The Summit           In fact, the issue of ownership was the
been the intergenerational interaction,        requires a subsidy. However, City officials   greatest challenge the City faced during
as 50-years-olds and 80-year-olds com-         want the facility to “not only take care      the center’s development, he says. The
municate and socialize in the lobby.           of the needs of the citizens, but also        question was not only how to help
That kind of interaction is bringing           become an economic generator for the          existing clients take ownership of The
the community closer—an unexpected             City,” Herold notes. So Parks officials       Summit, but also how to encourage
return on its investment.                      have carved off a nine-acre parcel of land    Boomers to take ownership and get
                                               for private development. In addition,         involved with a 50-plus facility for the
Funding the facility                           the City has created available frontage       first time.
The Summit cost the citizens of Grand          on Highway 161 for additional private
Prairie $23 million to develop and             city investment. Herold anticipates that      Staff started giving tours of The Summit
build, paid for by a 1/8-cent sales tax.       the income derived from the private           to the previous center’s clients as soon
This same tax, through the Park Venue          developments will not only pay The            as the drywall was in, and these tours
Fund, will also contribute much of the         Summit’s operating costs within the next      continued weekly for almost eight
center’s anticipated one-million-dollar        few years, but also will help to pay for      months, according to Herold. “So
annual operating budget. Other funding         Central Park’s future development. “The       traditional clients were the first to see the
will come from The Summit’s revenues,          citizens and the building are set up well     center,” he reveals. “They were also the
primarily annual memberships and               for a future revenue stream,” he states.      first in the building once it was finished,
facility rentals, which Herold expects to                                                    and the first to get their membership
total about $500,000 this year.                Respecting the past, looking                  cards.”
                                               to the future
For now, Grand Prairie residents are the       With the opening of The Summit, the
number one target for memberships.             City of Grand Prairie now boasts a public     Continued on page 20

18    ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010
The Summit: How Grand Prairie created its ‘country
club for the 50-plus’ Continued from page 18
                                                                                          Amenities and features

                                                                                          •	 Large,	two-storey	lobby	with	a	
                                                                                             player baby grand piano, stone
                                                                                             fireplace and overstuffed leather
                                                                                          •	 Indoor	swimming	pool	with	four	
                                                                                             lap lanes, ramp and zero (beach)
                                                                                          •	 Vortex	pool
                                                                                          •	 25-person	infinity-edge	hot	tub
                                                                                          •	 Wood	gymnasium
                                                                                          •	 4,000-sq.-ft.	fitness	center	
                                                                                          •	 Aerobics	room
                                                                                          •	 Massage	room
                                                                                          •	 Indoor	1/10-mile	walking	track
                                                                                          •	 Wood-paneled	locker	rooms	with	
                                                                                             saunas and private showers
                                                                                          •	 Ballroom,	divisible	into	three	
Woodwork and stone embellish the hallway to The Summit’s ballroom                            rooms, with bamboo flooring and
                                                                                             a stage
                                                                                          •	 Wings	Theater,	an	84-seat	sur-
To attract Boomers, the City “put a lot of   Ultimately, The Summit Adult Activity
                                                                                             round sound movie theater with
money into marketing the building’s soft     Center is all about the future. “Because
                                                                                             concession stand
opening,” Herold continues. The message      of the age group who will move to or
                                                                                          •	 Scores,	a	game	room	featuring	three	
“Your center, your country club” was         stay in the community due to the facility,
                                                                                             billiards tables, a pro shuffleboard
conveyed constantly as The Summit was        the center will be a dynamic economic
                                                                                             table, a poker table, a dartboard,
developed and constructed, so Boomers        generator for Grand Prairie for years to
                                                                                             a seating area, and four big screen
were eager to see the new building. Those    come,” Herold declares. When it comes
                                                                                             televisions with sports and general
who have joined The Summit have been         to residents of the Texas town, “we always
                                                                                             news tickers
welcomed and accepted by the center’s        say, ‘Engage, inspire and change a life
                                                                                          •	 Wii	room
traditional clients, he notes.               today,’” he continues. “From the ways we
                                                                                          •	 Crafts	room
                                             interact with the 50-plus population and
                                                                                          •	 Computer	station
Drawn by the mix of activities, exercise     address public health issues, and from
                                                                                          •	 Member	Vendor	Store,	where	
with fun, and the social element at The      the standpoint of those who come here
                                                                                             members can sell items they make
Summit, “some members are spending           and have opportunities to socialize and
                                                                                             and keep all proceeds
the whole day with us and bringing their     do things, The Summit is a place that’s
                                                                                          •	 Meeting	rooms
friends,” Herold comments. In fact, the      encouraging change in people.” And that
                                                                                          •	 Banquet	hall	with	full	kitchen	(also	
main issues right now result from high       will lead to more adults over 50 enjoying
                                                                                             used for teaching)
demand. “We’re unable to keep up with        longer and healthier lives in the future,
                                                                                          •	 Terrace	Café,	serving	sandwiches,	
the need for towels,” for example—“a         he concludes.
                                                                                             salads, beverages, wine and beer
small thing, I know, but we missed it.” In
                                                                                          •	 Greenhouse	and	outdoor	public	
addition, the center already requires four   Jenifer Milner edits the International
more recumbent bikes and additional          Council on Active Aging’s bimonthly
                                                                                          •	 Outdoor	games	courts	for	playing	
parking spaces, he adds.                     Journal on Active Aging®, as well as the
                                                                                             horseshoes, bocce ball and washers
                                             annual ICAA Developer’s Guide and
                                                                                          •	 Outdoor	covered	patio	with	grill	
“I always tell people you make a lot         ICAA Preferred Vendors Guide.
                                                                                             and fireplace
of mistakes,” Herold says. “I hope by
                                                                                          •	 Access	to	2.5	miles	of	boardwalks	
sharing how our city went through the        Images courtesy of the City of Grand
                                                                                             surrounding Central Park’s five
process, where we had our successes and      Prairie
our misses, we can help other folks and
                                                                                          •	 Public	art
be an instructive example.”

20   ICAA Developer’s Guide 2010

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