As the largest municipal recreation facility in the country, the Village of Pleasant Prairie RecPlex offers a variety of opportunities for all ages, abilities and demographics.
Located on the shores of Lake Andrea in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, the Village of Pleasant Prairie RecPlex serves as a community wellness hub connecting members to comprehensive programs, services and spaces that advance health and quality of life.
With a variety of indoor and outdoor offerings, the RecPlex prides itself on being able to truly offer something for everyone in the family. A number of these offerings include the Aqua Arena, Ice Arena, Lake Andrea Beach, Fieldhouse, Fitness Center and more. “‘Families belong here’ is our tagline because it really does provide the most for everyone,” said Sandy Wiedmeyer, the fitness manager of the RecPlex. “I think it is pretty amazing we are the largest municipal recreation center in the U.S., and it is crazy to think we are literally out of space. I am proud of the reach and the impact we have on the community.”
Founded in 2000, the RecPlex has gone through a few expansions to meet the growing needs of the Pleasant Prairie community. In 2004, the Ice Arena opened containing two NHL-sized ice rinks, a pro shop, multipurpose rooms and a concessions area. In 2010, the Aqua Arena expansion was completed containing a 50-meter Olympic-sized pool and stadium seating. “Classes, programs, events and competitions that take place at RecPlex are always evolving, but the facility additions were very impactful for the overall growth of the RecPlex,” said Wiedmeyer.
Another one of those impactful additions to the RecPlex was the hiring of Wiedmeyer herself. She manages the fitness center, group fitness, personal training, events, indoor triathlons, two outdoor triathlons a year and wellness programs. In addition, she serves on the Oversight Committee which is responsible for global decisions affecting the facility, and oversees the vision and progress of the other committees.
Wiedmeyer described her start in the recreation industry as organic, previously employed as a middle school science teacher who took a break from teaching to raise her children. “I became friends with a lady who worked at the facility as an instructor and trainer,” she explained. “One day she said to me, ‘We can’t be friends if you don’t go to the gym.’ She laughed, but I decided to join, and I fell in love with working out.”
Like so many who start out in group fitness, Wiedmeyer was recruited by her instructors to start teaching. After a couple of years, she was recruited again to start personal training. “Everything evolved over the years, and needless to say, I did not go back to teaching,” she said. “I accepted a part-time position as the fitness supervisor for a couple of years, then I was asked to consider my current role as fitness manager. My kids are older now and I felt the time was perfect to step up and elevate my second career.”
Craig Anderson, the director of recreation at the RecPlex, also had an organic start to his career in recreation. Beginning in 1983 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Anderson’s baseball coach was the chair of the recreation department and convinced him to take the Rec 100 class. He said he fell in love with recreation from the very start.
Anderson’s 30-plus years of parks and recreation work experience include campus recreation at Southern Illinois University, corporate recreation at S.C. Johnson Wax, not-for-profit with the YWCA, municipality at the City of Muskego/Village of Pleasant Prairie, and for-profit at the Rock Sports Complex.
Currently, Anderson’s role at the RecPlex is to set the vision for the organization that aligns with the Village of Pleasant Prairie, along with setting policy and helping each department achieve their budget goals and grow their program portfolios with efficient back-end processes. A typical week for him includes multiple meetings such as one-on-ones with 10 department managers, multiple committee meetings and answering the many questions that occur throughout the organization.
With the RecPlex’s sheer size of 302,000 square feet, along with the many facility areas that house local, regional, national and international events, communication among staff is vital. In fact, how his team navigated the COVID-19 pandemic is something Anderson spoke highly of. “I am most proud of the professional staff we have and the committee structure created specifically to allow for employee input — no matter what level — to the organization’s success,” he said. “My staff are not siloed in their thinking and are always willing to do more or pivot when needed to meet organizational need.”
And when it comes back to meeting organizational need, the goal for staff is always serving as the community wellness hub the RecPlex set out to be. Wiedmeyer elaborated the team does this through offering opportunities for physical activity, social connections and connection to nature for all members of the family.
Starting with the children in the community, The RecPlex offers Preschool U, a comprehensive preschool program that boasts a theme and outcome-based curriculum. The goal is to help children explore and discover by exposing them to different types of learning experiences, preparing them for kindergarten and life-long learning. The weekly schedule includes not only typical academics, but also several large motor activities including ice skating, swimming, outdoor play and gym time. The RecPlex currently serves over 100 families in this program.
Other youth services offered at the RecPlex include the Kids Court and Lil Tykes area — a safe and fun place for parents to drop off children while they work out in the RecPlex or around Lake Andrea for up to one hour. Before and after school — as well as school days off — care is also offered. Children can enjoy swimming, participate in arts and crafts, and play games with peers their own age. And lastly, the RecPlex holds a summer camp featuring activities such as swimming, ice skating, gym games, arts and crafts, team bonding activities and more.
Another area that serves the whole family is the RecPlex Aquatics department. Unique to the location, the RecPlex is able to offer the benefits of Lake Andrea including fishing, swimming, wind surfing, sailing and boating.
The RecPlex also offers swim lessons and is home to Patriots Swimming — one of 64 teams in the state registered with Wisconsin Swimming and USA Swimming — as well as the Patriots Master Swimming team. It all happens in a relaxed atmosphere geared toward fitness and technical progression for anyone who wants to swim, competitive or not.
And since the Aqua Arena expansion in 2010, aquatics has also had the ability to host multiple events throughout the years to help offset operational expenses. “In 2020, even with COVID-19 closures and restrictions, we had over 3,200 swimmers participate in swim events,” said Wiedmeyer. “In 2021, we are already at over 9,500 athletes.”
This year, the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon powered by Race Day Events hosted the 2021 Americas Triathlon Para Championships at the RecPlex. Wiedmeyer shared 11 of the 13 U.S. Paralympic Triathlon team members raced at that event. “Our very own Keegan Knott — member of the RecPlex Patriots Swim Team — was the youngest member of the swim team to represent the U.S. in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo,” she said.
A unique highlight of the RecPlex is the Therapeutic Recreation Program. The program engages participants with both varying levels of physical and developmental disabilities in daily activities and experiences that encourage social, emotional, physical and mental growth through recreation.
Weekly outings, daily activities, adaptive personal training and fitness, swimming and additional skills-based clubs are offered to make this program stand out. “With our four-to-one ratio of clients to staff, the quality of care available to our participants is top notch,” shared Wiedmeyer. “The Therapeutic Recreation staff are all trained in CPR, First Aid, AED, universal precautions, behavior modifications, emergency response, basic sign language and one-to-two person transfers.”
Wiedmeyer shared some of the most popular therapeutic clubs at the RecPlex include cooking, crafting and fitness. Other clubs offered include social, sensory and hiking.
The 18,000-square-foot Fitness Center is an area of the RecPlex that truly combines the needs of children, their parents, adults, active older adults and those seeking therapeutic services. Equipped with professional cardio and strength equipment from Cybex Arc and FreeMotion incline trainers; Precor ellipticals, treadmills and stair steppers; Jacobs Ladder, NuStep, Marpo rope trainers and more, the Fitness Center is designed to provide an active lifestyle.
The Fitness Center also offers classic fitness and wellness options such as personal training, group fitness, a Silver Series for aging adults, a virtual cycling-spin studio, and mind/body and aqua fitness classes.
As the fitness manager, Wiedmeyer shared she also manages the group fitness schedule and substitute needs, as well as leads some classes on her own. “I also teach a couple of group fitness classes a week to better stay in touch with both my staff needs, and to make myself more accessible to our members,” she said.
Retention has been top of mind for the recreation industry as many have been working on plans to not only gain new members but retain current members as well. To address this need, the RecPlex has a few loyalty programs in place to reward members for being active. One program is Perkville Rewards, an opt-in program that allows members to earn points for various programs, actions or activities to be redeemed for rewards. These rewards can range from a lanyard to a month’s membership for free.
The RecPlex also offers Bring a Buddy Wednesday that allows members to bring a friend for free every Wednesday after reaching their one-year anniversary. The RecPlex also offers a guest pass based on longevity. For example, a member of one to five years is eligible for five guest passes annually and a member of six to 10 years is eligible for 10 guest passes annually. These types of programs not only reward current members but can also help in the recruitment of new members.
Looking ahead, Anderson elaborated membership retention and meeting staffing needs are immediate to the success of the RecPlex over the next five years. “We are in the process of identifying succession plans for both senior positions who will be retiring, including myself and my facilities superintendent,” he said. “Addressing this now will help ensure the transition goes smoothly and successful growth will be assured.”
Sandy Wiedmeyer shared the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex has many opportunities in the works that will further establish the facility as a community wellness hub.
“Pleasant Prairie has recently formed its own visitors bureau — Pleasant Prairie Convention and Visitors Bureau — who we work very closely with to bring added value to our community,” said Wiedmeyer. “We have also acquired Phenom Baseball, a nice addition to our exciting elite youth teams. Plus, we are rolling out a new partnership with health care organization Ascension that will not only bring additional resources to our members, but also to our sports teams and community as a whole. We have also been working to expand a national reach of events and tournaments to be hosted at RecPlex and Prairie Springs Park.”
*Photos courtesy of Lilly Dyer.