The Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 10, 2001
December 10, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 14


It's Time to Rec and Roll

Homewood's state-of-the-art recreation center to open its doors in January

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

As prime holiday season approaches, the university is just weeks away from unwrapping the latest addition to the Homewood campus, the 63,000-square-foot student recreation center. The three-story $14.3 million facility, intended for the use of Homewood faculty and staff as well as students, is scheduled to open on Jan. 7, 2002.

For Bill Harrington, recreational sports director, the upcoming opening is a day he thought would never come. As new equipment arrives daily, Harrington says, the smile on his face grows wider.

"It's gangbusters in here," Harrington says. "It's Bally's, with a college feel," he says, referring to the well-known fitness operation.

Recreational sports director Bill Harrington in the PepsiCO Fitness Center, where oversized windows offer scenic views of campus to exercise equipment-users.

The student recreation center is a state-of-the-art facility that abuts the Newton H. White Athletic Center. While the structure's exterior--clad in water-struck brick and limestone--resembles its neighbor, the interior bears little likeness to the Athletic Center's 1960s look and feel.

Abounding in natural light and colors, the recreation center sheds all institutional allusions. From the moment you pass through the lobby's turnstiles, a blast of divergent colors draws your attention, with Hopkins' traditional Columbia blue and black nowhere in sight. Harrington says the idea was to differentiate clearly the recreation center from the existing varsity sports facility.

"The fact that the interior does not have a team or academic look is intentional," Harrington says. "We planned for it to have a different kind of feel when you come in, a more welcoming feel, as opposed to a traditional gymnasium."

Perhaps the structure's most defining features are its open floor plan and abundant use of glass, giving the space a transparent appearance. With high ceilings and several glass walls incorporated into its design, there is little to obstruct the view in any direction.

The student recreation center, designed by Sasaki Associates, abuts the Athletic Center.

"You can really see almost everything as soon as you walk in," Harrington says. "And you can see it really fast."

And there is plenty to see, and do.

The first floor contains a gymnasium, four racquetball/squash courts, a 3,000-square-foot weight room, a 30-foot climbing wall and men's and women's locker rooms. The 18,000-square-foot gymnasium, outfitted with two scoreboards, can be transformed into three basketball courts, five volleyball courts or three badminton courts. The racquetball/squash courts, meanwhile, have movable back walls to conform to either American or international rules.

Above the perimeter of the gym is a one-tenth-mile, three-lane jogging track. A short hop from the track is the 2,500-square-foot PepsiCO Fitness Center, named after the facility's major donor, the PepsiCO Foundation. The fitness room contains the latest in exercise equipment, including treadmills, cross trainers, stationary bikes, stairmasters and rowing machines.

On the third floor is a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose room to service group fitness classes, martial arts classes and assorted other functions. The recreation center also includes administrative offices, a classroom and a conference room. In addition, the recreation center's men's and women's locker rooms have access to the Athletic Center's pool.

An elevated track frames the gymnasium that can accommodate a number of sports.

Currently, all recreational activities are housed in the Athletic Center. However, Harrington says the structure was never intended for such use. When the building was completed in 1964, the undergraduate student body was all male and less than one-half its present size. Over time and based on demand, the facility's lower level was filled with weight rooms, cardiovascular equipment and racquetball courts. The space, Harrington says, filled up very quickly. To add anything new, one had to be creative. For example: The racquetball court was transformed several years ago into the climbing wall room.

"Not to mention that because of the locker room issues, we had women having to walk in the halls and main corridors to get to the pool," he says.

Harrington adds that what little space he had was lost when the construction of the student recreation center began two years ago. To maintain some semblance of a recreation program, Harrington was forced to put treadmills in hallways and fill the remaining racquetball courts with weight equipment.

"We've been operating in Band-Aid mode for the last two years," Harrington says.

The third floor's multipurpose room has a resilient floor and expansive views.

The student recreation center was designed by Sasaki Associates, an architectural firm based in Watertown, Mass. Sasaki, which has a sports facilities design group, is responsible for the new recreation centers at both Loyola College in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park, in addition to a number of such facilities at academic institutions nationwide.

Steve Schetler, lead architect of Hopkins' recreation center, says the challenge of designing the new space was to "provide a contemporary building in a very historical context."

"In a sense, this facility takes cues from the materials and massings seen on the campus, and the existing building it is attached to," Schetler says. "At the same time, it's looking forward into the future, using contemporary fenestration and a modern palette."

Schetler says that what makes this building unique is its "intermingling of spaces."

"For instance, from the jogging track you can look into either the climbing wall area or the fitness room," Schetler says. "You can enjoy adjacent spaces from almost everywhere you are."

For those adverse to watching others exercise, the center provides other views. Each room has windows that offer campus views and remote-controlled televisions, attached to the walls by brackets, to break the tedium of staring at solid walls.

The recreation center is entirely donor-funded. In addition to PepsiCO Foundation, major donors are the Anita France Foundation, the Robert G. and Anne M. Merrick Foundation and alumni Elaine and Wayne Schelle and Ralph S. O'Connor.

To cover the center's operating cost, a fee structure has been implemented for Homewood faculty and staff. For Monday through Friday use during the hours of 7 a.m to 2 p.m., the cost of membership is $180 per year. For Monday through Sunday use during all posted recreation centers hours, the cost of membership is $360 per year; spouses of faculty and staff can join for an additional $240. The cost of membership for alumni is $480. Guests of members can be admitted for $10 per day. For Homewood students there is no additional cost.

The center's operating hours will be Monday through Friday, 7 a.m to midnight; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 8 p.m. Starting Jan. 7, a J-Card will be required for admittance to either the recreation center or the Athletic Center. In addition to its five full-time staff, the center will have student employees who can instruct on all equipment usage.

Membership applications will be sent out to Homewood faculty and staff prior to the upcoming holidays.

Harrington says that both operating hours and membership requirements are subject to change based on the usage of the center. He predicts it should quickly become one of the more popular places on campus.

"With the new building, we now have a fantastic facility, a wonderful staff and sufficient funding to offer both quantity and quality programs," Harrington says. "It's a whole new world."