When Tom and Kari Streets bought the Billings Gymnastics School in 2007, they knew it was a thriving business with potential for more — after all, Tom had worked with previous owners, Wally and Becky Price for more than 20 years. Yet the Streets dreamed of a bigger gym, a larger space to serve the many area kids and teens who enjoy gymnastics.
This month, the Streets will realize that dream when they move thousands of pieces of complex gymnastics equipment, and all that accompanies such apparatus, into their new location at 2449 Enterprise Ave.
“Tom has been playing with plans for quite a few years,” Kari said. “He did a lot of research of facilities across the region and the country, including industry standards and those of USA Gymnastics.”
Airing it out
The co-owners agree that the most significant issue with their former home at 240 S. Eighth St. can be summed up with one word — space. The new building will have more room both inside and out.
“The new location is more centrally located, and that’s important,” Tom said. “But parking was a huge issue.”
“The new location will have 76 parking spots, compared to 24 at the old building," Kari said. "I also like the fact that parents can drop off their kid and do errands in the King Avenue West area. That was not the case in our old location.”
The increased space continues inside and includes a larger and improved gym, two viewing areas, more office space, more bathrooms and a larger birthday party/break room. The new building is 20,745 square feet, compared to 11,000 square feet.
“We had basically max-ed out our space,” Kari said of the old facility. "We lost potential business because we could not safely add students or classes to the existing space."
For example, the most popular class, Girls Level I Gymnastics, was full and had 10 pages of names on the wait list last year.
Maximizing space and safety
While the new gym may seem cavernous, the Streets point out that square footage with gymnastics equipment varies greatly. For example, a bar takes up an 8-by-30-foot space, but only one student can be on the apparatus at one time.
Kari said every space is multipurpose. During the day, the gym is set up for preschool classes, after school they convert equipment for school-aged children and later it is set up for the competitive team members.
While the gym space only increased by 400 square feet, from 10,000 to 14,000, Tom noted that layout and other key elements enabled them to now have twice the space for floor exercises.
Tom and Kari had very specific needs, said Allen Rapacz, president and architect with Schutz Foss Architects, who also designed the Flyers Gymnastic School in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
“They needed a creative, safe and tight layout of equipment to make the most of their space,” he said. “Plus, it was important to provide a tight separation between the gym floor and the office area to control the chalk dust inherent to gymnastics.”
Incorporating three “pit systems” was also a crucial piece, he said.
The former facility had only one pit, which limited activities and created a nonfavorable system for spotters — the coach who helps the gymnast mount, dismount and complete complicated maneuvers safely.
A “trench pit” in the new facility allows the gymnast to swing through a bar exercise, partially below the grade while the spotter safely stands on solid ground, compared to on blocks or a ladder. It is a much safer environment for all involved.
According to Rapacz, incorporating those systems into the foundation without compromising integrity was critical.
Shane Flohr, project manager from High Tech Construction, pointed out that the recent torrential downpours on Sept. 6 and 7 were a good test of those below-grade pits — everything looked great after that major weather event.
A 60-foot by 40-foot outdoor pool is another key aspect of BGS’s new location. The Streets strive to keep the water in their seasonal pool warm and student-to-teacher ratios low (less than 4 to 1), thus creating an inviting environment for very young kids to get accustomed to the water and to learn basic swim strokes.
The deck area is enclosed with a security fence, which can be accessed directly from the parking lot instead of through the gym, with on-deck, open-air showers and deck-accessible bathrooms, plus plenty of seating for parents.
A team effort
The Streets interviewed a few general contractors and opted to work with High Tech Construction.
“We are novices at building and they helped us through the process,” Tom said. “And they remained very accessible to us.”
“High Tech was really open to taking our ideas and showed us how they would work in reality,” Kari said.
One of the biggest challenges, Flohr said, was the Streets’ short timeline. They broke ground in April and needed the work to be done in six months. With plans to move during the week between class sessions, and hundreds of families depending on that schedule, the timeframe was incredibly important.
“There were no other options,” Flohr said. “All the pieces just fit.”
Flohr also noted that High Tech offered some time and budget-saving options to the Streets, including using High Tech’s in-house cabinet shop and re-purposing some leftover solid surfaces into BGS.
“Clean-ability” and maintenance were also important issues. To that end, most public space flooring, like in the upper viewing loft, is stained and polished cement.
“We are also installing a thin blue metal wainscoting that is pretty neat,” Flohr said. “It’s blue for a pop of color and pretty easy to clean — I’m sure many little hands and feet will touch it.”
The Streets also incorporated two large viewing areas for the families and friends of their students. The lower level is enclosed with glass to cut on both noise and chalk dust while the upper deck is larger, open to the gym and will have plenty of space for siblings and parents to work, play or observe the athletes on-site or via the closed-circuit monitoring system.
The rail system of the upper deck was especially important to Tom and Kari. At any given time there could be 75 to 100 kids in the building.
“The railing had to be something that kids can’t climb,” Kari said. “So we angled it in a bit, tightened the slats and made a wider lip across the top. That was a big thing for me.”
Other, less glamorous but still important features include two large swamp coolers and two massive fans to keep the gym cool and air flowing. The former location was often quite stuffy during the summer months.
They also added more bathrooms, including family bathrooms, a gym shop, reception area and dedicated offices for key personnel.
The new Billings Gymnastic School will open in early October, continuing to offer a safe learning environment for kids ages 18 months to 18 years. Many local families have been touched by the experts at BGS. They serve approximately 1,200 gymnasts, 1,500 young swimmers and 75 competitive gymnastics team members annually. The business employs 25 people part and full time.