Before a tour of Long Beach State’s three-year-old recreation center even began, associate director of recreation Sean Del Rossi alerted some 70 ABC attendees that they would later step into a “bizarro world” once the tour took them to the University of California-Irvine’s counterpart facility. In terms of programming layout, left would be right and vice versa.


But so much more differentiates the two facilities featured on Wednesday’s bus tour north from the Athletic Business Conference & Expo in San Diego. Long Beach’s center is almost clinical in appearance, with white walls accented with stark, larger-than-life graphics (a woman in a Yoga position, a basketball in the hands of a shooter) and abundant use of glass. A glass half-wall (resembling a hockey dasher treatment) separates the ground-floor fitness area from the multi-court gym space. A glass railing travels the circumference of the second-level jogging track, and heavy glass is found along the “most traveled hallway on campus” separating the gym from racquet courts and leading to a climbing wall toward the back of the building. There’s an unmistakable openness and energy about the building.

The feeling is quite different in Irvine, but no less welcoming. Earth tones dominate the entrance to UC-Irvine’s rec center, as does a lobby climbing wall (contrasting from the location of this amenity in Long Beach). Beige and burnished block walls and exposed hunter-green iron beams give the sensation of being in a modern ballpark concourse. An enormous outdoor pool deck featuring a barbeque and surrounded by lush foliage gives the impression of being at a high-end resort. A multi-activity court features the kind of soaring A-frame ceiling that one would expect to find in a retro basketball field house design. Jill Schindele, a 32-year veteran of the UC-Irvine rec department, introduced herself during lunch served in an expansive teaching kitchen, reflecting the university’s emphasis on wellness.

In the end, ABC tourists got a taste of two distinct approaches to rec center design. Neither bizarro, necessarily. Just different. And both impressive in their own way.