When members enter the aptly named The Rush Fitness Complex in Knoxville, TN, they get an endorphin rush from the entertaining but very physical atmosphere featuring rock climbing, bungee jumping, indoor batting cages, mechanical bull riding, plus all the conventional workout areas and amenities expected in a health club.

One thing The Rush's president and CEO Larry Gurney didn't want was a rush of air from the hvac system. Instead of keeping the existing metal ductwork, Gurney chose fabric air dispersion systems to distribute even, draft-free airflow to members as part of the $1.5 million retrofit of a 40,000-sq-ft former Service Merchandise anchor store in the Knoxville Center Mall.

New rooftop hvac systems totaling 49,000 cfm also incorporate approximately 25% outdoor air into the reconfigured airflow design as specified by Engineering Services Group (Knoxville, TN), the project's consulting engineering firm.

K.O.-ing B.O.

Using outside air combined with even air distribution is critical in eliminating stagnant odors associated with health clubs. The linear diffusers sewn into the entire length of the Comfort-Flow(tm) fabric duct manufactured by DuctSox(r) (Dubuque, IA), produce draftless airflow vs. the staggered placements of metal duct registers. The diffusers supply 90% of the airflow and the remaining 10% flows gently through the permeable fabric's texture.

"Indoor air quality is as important as the visual presentation when providing a pleasant atmosphere for members to work out [in]," says Gurney, who cofounded The Rush last year, and had previously been southwest division president of 24 Hour Fitness (the world's largest health club chain with over 400 locations).

But there's more to the hvac system than just IAQ. The 750 linear ft of fabric duct ranging from 12- to 24-in. in diameter adds to the new club's "exertainment," an industry buzzword the 20-year health club veteran coined and now uses as one of The Rush's marketing strategies.

DuctSox's premium Sedona fabric, which uses the Comfort-Flow model, is an aesthetic factor in the fun and entertaining interior designed by Daryl Johnson of Johnson Architecture (Knoxville, TN). Johnson also included 20 television monitors, a juice bar, and other amenities in his design. Aesthetics is critical, according to Gurney, because The Rush taps into the trend of people choosing health clubs over nightclubs as places to "hang out."

A fabric to complement its figure

Aside from aesthetics and IAQ, The Rush also cut retrofit costs by choosing fabric duct. Michael Hamil, vice president, Cherokee Millwright (Maryville, TN), a combination commercial mechanical contractor/industrial millwright firm, estimates The Rush saved considerable installation labor and handling costs compared to metal duct because fabric duct is 90% lighter, hangs from suspension cables, and can arrive at the jobsite via next-day delivery.

"In an exposed ceiling situation where someone wants to make a design statement, fabric duct appears to be a good alternative to metal duct," says Hamil, who's expecting to use fabric duct a second time in an upcoming project that includes a radio broadcast studio.

Material costs of using fabric duct were comparable to using single-walled spiral metal duct and less expensive than double-walled metal duct, according to manufacturer's representative, Scott Ryan, Greeley Associates (Knoxville, TN), who introduced the project's engineers to DuctSox. Cherokee also installed 12 Trane Co. (Tyler, TX), Voyager Series rooftop units, which are controlled by individual Trane thermostats.

Gurney plans to use fabric duct exclusively in the one-year-old firm's expansion plan, which includes four locations this year and four to six locations next year in several East Coast market locations.

Because of DuctSox's factory silkscreening program, Gurney plans to cut hvac costs in future locations by imprinting logos of vendors on fabric ducts and charging the advertising space on an annual fee basis. Unlike the immovability of metal duct, fabric duct's light weight and suspension system make it easily interchangeable or movable if vendors change or the health club's air dispersion requirements are altered due to floor plan reconfigurations.

The Rush's new locations will be a combination of new construction and former retail stores with great locations left abandoned by the current economic downturn. The Rush, as apparent in its quick success as an anchor in a major regional mall, is getting calls from many shopping center leasers across the country with empty retail spaces to fill. With flexibility in its ducting and a proven business plan, The Rush is rushing forward.ES