For Bally Total Fitness to provide its members fun, friendly, safe environments, its buildings must do the same. The fitness center powerhouse has tasked Chipman Adams Ltd. as its prototype architects to establish and maintain architectural standards for its businesses across the country.

As experts in clubhouse design, Chipman Adams is no stranger to the constant challenge of sustaining healthy buildings in harsh environments, such as natatoriums and steam rooms. Such was the case with a new Bally fitness center in Carrollton, Texas, which included two indoor pools and multiple shower rooms in its blueprints.

The gym needed full-access ceilings that would remain unchanged over the long haul, despite the hostile, moist environments. To ensure a safe swimming environment for Bally members, the architects specified a ceiling that would not swell and belly flop onto unsuspecting swimmers. In addition, the ceiling materials would need to help absorb noise in the mostly hard-surface rooms.

Off the deep end

At first pass, the firm specified a product already on its list of approved materials. Yet, insurmountable logistics issues led the firm to take another look at those recommended materials.

"Beyond endurance and design features, when talking about ceiling panels, it's really a question of availability and cost," says Burt Andrews, vice president of Chipman Adams.

Evaluating only materials that met the environmental requirements of the project, the company selected EuroStone Sustainable Ceiling Panels, manufactured by Chicago Metallic. The material was selected for performance, as neither chlorine nor humidity affects it. The panels are made from inorganic perlite, so there is no issue with mold or decay. The composition of the panels results in a 40-year lifespan, according to the manufacturer. By comparison, the average ceiling panel has a four- to six-year lifecycle in high-humidity environments. In addition, the ceiling panels have a sound absorption

rating of 65 percent (NRC 0.65 per ASTM C 423).

"Choosing the right ceiling panel is critical to high humidity situations," Andrews says. "If you put in just any wet-form ceiling panel, it could belly and stain and look awful. In a matter of months, the panels would absorb enough water to fall out of the suspension grid. We didn't just need a high-humidity-resistant panel-we needed one that could sustain getting wet."

Eliminating products that require substantial maintenance and/or replacement is obviously important to property owners as it limits total cost of ownership. The new panel was viewed as a good way to keep the club from getting drenched with ongoing maintenance expenses that come with sagging, stained ceiling panels.

No dive this

Beyond mold concerns, high humidity and chlorine exposure can also greatly impact ceiling aesthetics, both panel and grid. For this project, a solid aluminum grid was specified over an aluminum-capped grid that may contain metal that rusts and discolors ceiling panel. Stainless steel wires were also used to suspend the grid.

"The ceiling was designed to keep its look despite the harsh environment of the pool room," says Reno McCrory, president of Reno McCrory Enterprises, the contractors selected to install the ceiling as well as the walls. "Mineral fiber ceiling panels, especially in a damp area, don't take long before they start warping. With these panels, there's no warping."

This project was the first time either Andrews or McCrory had used EuroStone, and all told, it took about two months to complete.

"The challenge we faced was installing a ceiling system directly above swimming pools, which meant we had to deal with the varying levels of the pool's sloping floor," according to Mike Morrison, project manager of Reno McCrory Enterprises. "We essentially had to set up our scaffolds in the empty pools and raise and lower them according the pool's elevation so we could reach the ceiling. This was definitely the most challenging part of the project."

While Morrison admits that working in the pools took some getting used to, the perlite panels proved easy to work with. The team, which ranged from three to five installers, cut the reveal-edge panels to size on site, laid them in the grid and then trimmed their edges. Morrison says that the most important tool for working with the panels was a sharp knife for precise cutting.

"I've been in the business for 25 years now, and after all was said and done with the Bally natatorium, I was really impressed with the impact the ceiling made on the entire area."