At Cliffside Park (N.J.) High School, what was once an old, dirty auto shop garage is now a bright, top-of-the-line athletic training room. Converting one to the other required a little elbow grease and a whole lot of planning.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Training & Conditioning.
By Phil Struzzi
Phil Struzzi, MS, ATC, is Athletic Trainer at Cliffside Park (N.J.) High School. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Like a lot of secondary school athletic trainers, my original sports medicine facility at Cliffside Park (N.J.) High School was small. Previously a bathroom, it had been converted into an athletic training room many years ago.
Although it served its purpose, our bathroom-turned-athletic-training room failed in functionality and lacked space. Student-athletes had to wait in the hallway to be seen, and things weren’t much better inside the room. I was constantly tripping over, bumping into, or relocating athletes due to the cramped quarters.
Eager for a change, I started brainstorming ways to get a bigger, better athletic training facility. Knowing we wouldn’t be able to add a new room onto the school, I began searching for a space on campus that would fit my specifications.
I knew Cliffside Park’s auto shop class had been disbanded and the garage that had housed it was being used by the custodians. The garage was a good size, had plumbing, and could be accessed from the locker rooms, as well as from outside. It was messy, dirty, and smelled of oil when I first checked it out, but I could see its potential.
Transforming that dark, dingy garage into a bright, shiny, fully equipped athletic training room required more than a quick cleanup, however. In fact, it was a multi-step process that required planning, collaboration, and compromise. But when I opened my new facility in September 2016 and could finally provide efficient care to my athletes, I knew it had all been worth it.
Once I set my sights on transforming the old auto shop into an athletic training room, I had to get approval from my athletic director and principal—a process I expected to be long and difficult. To my surprise, that was not the case at all.
I approached my athletic director first, explaining that the existing room was too small for the volume of athletes being seen. In addition, I expressed concern about the room being located in a part of the building that was locked after hours or when the custodians weren’t in. Due to this issue, athletes couldn’t always access me.
After my athletic director agreed there was a need for a better space, I took the idea to my principal. Since he is a great supporter of athletic trainers, he was on board with the project, as well.
With my administration’s support, we started to think about financing the conversion. My principal got the school board’s approval for the project and worked with the superintendent and business administrator to allocate money from the school’s capital improvement fund. We were officially given the green light, and the conversion began in summer 2016.
Our first order of business was relocating the custodial supplies that were being stored in the garage. Space in our school is limited, so my principal decided to buy two shipping containers that the custodians could use instead. We consulted with the custodians beforehand, and they said the containers would be sufficient for their needs.
After we addressed this issue, I started to think about what I wanted the new athletic training room to look like. While I had ideas from visiting other facilities, I spent some time in the garage envisioning different ways to create a functional space. I asked myself, “If I did this or that, how would it affect athletes’ treatment? How would it look if I added a new piece of equipment?” Additionally, as I continued to work out of the old athletic training room, I thought about how certain tasks would be completed in the new space and what layout would make it streamlined. (See “Plan it Out” below to view the layout for the new room.)
Once I decided on a plan for the room, my principal, the contractor, and I went over the work that needed to be done and determined approximately how much it would cost. At one of our first meetings, the principal and contractor started talking about building walls and adding drop ceilings. I knew both of those would balloon the cost and were unnecessary to make the space usable for my needs.
Instead, my goal was to keep the building costs down as much as possible in order to have more money left over for furniture and supplies. I explained that the existing cinder block walls were in superb condition and only needed to be cleaned and painted. Furthermore, I told them that the high ceiling was a plus, since it would allow athletes to perform exercises without worrying about hitting or damaging the ceiling. My principal and contractor understood my points, and we decided to keep the bones of the room mostly as they were.
The total work that was completed included closing in the garage door, replacing the sink, adding floor drains for an ice machine and whirlpool, adding and replacing outlets, installing floor tile, painting, and installing heat and air conditioning. The work started in late August and lasted for about a month.
During this construction period, I met with the contractors daily to answer any questions and ensure the work being performed was keeping the room functional. Most of the questions came from the electrician regarding what was being plugged into each outlet and the electrical needs of certain equipment.
For the most part, things went smoothly, but we did face a few hurdles throughout the construction process. The first pertained to flooring. I wanted to have the floor painted with an epoxy (like you would see in a garage), but it was too expensive. Instead, we decided to use tile. The original plan was to use the same tile that the school was installing in a bathroom renovation. However, I pushed for a different option that would not become slippery when wet, since we were going to have an ice machine and whirlpool in the athletic training room.
Another obstacle was getting air conditioning set up in the converted space. In the beginning, we weren’t going to include it due to the expense. Yet after discussing with my principal the necessity of a cooling area for athletes experiencing heat distress, we decided it was worth the cost.
Overall, outside contractors did about 90 percent of the work for the new athletic training room. To save money, I did some minor work, such as putting the ice machine and whirlpool together and hanging the paper towel and soap dispensers on the walls.
Going into the design phase of the room, my athletic director asked me to get price quotes for the equipment and furnishings I needed. To do this, I met with the Henry Schein regional sales representative at the Athletic Training Society of New Jersey’s annual conference, who then introduced me to the representative for Hausmann. I started with Henry Schein because they were already an approved vendor and listed on our ordering site. We used Hausmann because I knew their furnishings were well made and looked nice.
Reps for both companies came to my school to see the converted athletic training room. The rep for Hausmann used the MagicPlan app on his iPad to scan the room and made a floor plan with dimensions. This allowed us to virtually arrange furniture in a variety of ways and make changes easily without having to redraft the floor plan using paper and pencil.
Beyond the convenience of the MagicPlan app, working with Hausmann and Henry Schein allowed me to choose the style and color of my cabinets, tables, and other items. The representative from Henry Schein helped in keeping costs down, putting my order together, and answering my questions. He also made sure the furnishings were being built to the correct specifications and let me know when my items had shipped.
As a result of my collaboration with Henry Schein and Hausmann, I made a “wish list” and got the price quote for my athletic director. To keep costs down, we agreed to follow a five-year plan to furnish the room and only order the essentials for the first year. Although I had to eliminate some items from my wish list, I was elated with what I was able to order: four new tables, new cabinets, an ice machine, and a whirlpool.
Once the construction was done and the furnishings were in place, all that was left to do was transition into the converted athletic training room. Getting settled in required quite a bit of running back and forth between the old and new spaces.
The main issue was that I could only move equipment and supplies a little at a time each day due to my busy schedule. To speed up the process, some athletes helped me move boxes and equipment during their free periods. The biggest help, though, came from our student athletic trainer from a local university who was doing her site rotation at Cliffside Park. With her assistance, we were able to put away supplies, move furniture, and clean the room from the construction dust, all while continuing to treat athletes.
Now that we are officially up and running, the new athletic training room has been a big stress reliever. With the previous space, I could only have one athlete doing exercises, performing modalities, or getting taped at a time. In the renovated space, I am able to treat almost eight athletes at once, depending on their needs.
The upgraded athletic training room has also allowed me to better watch over concussed athletes performing their post-concussion exercise progressions. Previously, they had to complete this in the weightroom due to lack of space, but now they are under my direct supervision.
I’m not the only one who’s enjoying the converted athletic training room. The feedback from student-athletes, coaches, teachers, and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive. The athletes love the space, the new treatment tables, and the amount of room they have to perform exercises. I have also noticed increased enthusiasm for rehab.
Coaches are in awe of what we are able to get done now and happy to see that their athletes have a space where they can concentrate on their rehab. Both athletes and coaches have high expectations for how the new space will benefit recovery, and I look forward to meeting and hopefully exceeding those expectations.
If you are an athletic trainer looking to upgrade your athletic training room, my advice is to get your athletic director and principal on board first by explaining why it’s necessary. Most schools will be skeptical about spending money for a new space. However, with injuries increasing each year and concussion awareness rising, bigger spaces will greatly benefit the athletes. Other ideas to further boost your pitch include looking for the space that needs the smallest amount of work, suggesting a five-year plan to furnish the room, being open to fundraising or advertising to offset some costs, and being persistent.
As we look ahead to our own five-year plan for the athletic training room, I hope to add more equipment to better treat injured athletes. Seeing how much room I have to work with, I think rocker/wobble boards, exercise balls, and weights would be welcome features in the facility.
Having the opportunity to move into a bigger space and remodel it to suit my needs was a dream come true. It took a lot of work to get this project done, but it definitely paid off. In fact, since I had such a positive experience with the process, and because it has allowed me to better perform my duties as an athletic trainer, I would do it all over again.
PLAN IT OUT
Using the MagicPlan app, I was able to obtain a virtual scan of the converted athletic training room at Cliffside Park (N.J.) High School. After playing around to see what worked best, I settled on the below floor plan.
I chose this layout because I wanted to keep the middle of the room open for athletes performing rehab exercises. I also wanted to see most of the room from my desk so I could keep an eye on athletes. The orientation of the space made this easy for me, since it was almost a square except for a small wall that formed it into an L-shape.
In addition, I hoped to utilize the wall length for treatment tables. I was given a TV to stream sports while athletes are in the office. It fit perfectly above where the tape is stored and enabled me to put the treatment tables where I wanted them.