The O’Pake Recreation Center at Saint Joseph’s University began 2023 closed and will remain so heading into early 2024 for renovations. While students can’t access the facility this year, 72,000 square feet of completely renovated space will be available for them upon reopening.
Saint Joseph’s Renovation
Kevin Mueller, the senior director of Construction and Planning at Saint Joseph’s, said the project will improve and reimagine current spaces thanks, in part, to the work of architectural firm EwingCole and the construction company L.F. Driscoll Company, LLC.
The full-scale renovation will also provide the campus community with state-of-the-art equipment and transform the building into an easily navigable and fully accessible facility.
Namely, a new 1,830-square-foot cardio mezzanine will be overlooking a large multipurpose court.
“The lined multipurpose court will have a dividing curtain for club sports, intramurals, larger group fitness classes, net nights and recreational play, as well as other holistic wellness programming events and student activities,” said Mueller. “We will also have finished updates to the upper gymnasium. The goal of this project is to provide a brighter, more welcoming recreation and fitness space.”
Other new features will include:
- Two multipurpose rooms in the lower level of the center for group fitness classes and other holistic wellness programming and student activities.
- A new HVAC system throughout the entire facility.
- Improved accessibility and circulation.
- Two new elevators.
- Upgraded varsity locker rooms for the baseball, field hockey, softball and tennis programs.
“Additionally, we will be consolidating the varsity team offices and support spaces to create synergies and efficiencies in operations,” said Mueller. “Both the pool mechanical systems and the pool itself will be updated as well. Through these renovations, we want students to see the O’Pake Recreation Center as a place to gather. Therefore, we’re opening the lobby floor plan to create a student lounge space and updating the facade at the lobby entrance with improved access to the main lobby doors from the exterior.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Q&A on campus rec renovations.
The extensive renovations called for campus leaders to seek construction strategies that cut back on costs as much as possible. Jason Massey, the construction project manager at Saint Joseph’s, said one tactic employed was true value engineering.
“For example, our team has located existing, unused underground electrical infrastructure that we are able to reuse,” said Massey. “We also revised some of our steel infill framing details to eliminate the need for additional angle framing and welding in the field.”
Another strategy Massey said was key in the process is being thoughtful toward the design. To achieve this, Saint Joseph’s conducted a student satisfaction survey in the planning phases. They also analyzed building usage in these stages and determined which program spaces may be underutilized or overutilized compared to the standards set by NIRSA.
“Through this study, we were empowered to reduce our general locker room square footage and add new fitness spaces, all within our existing building footprint,” said Massey. “We also determined the best location for two new elevators based on many factors, including improving overall accessibility, gaining elevator access to the newly designed cardio mezzanine, avoiding cutting a new hole in the roof and minimizing the existing structural impact on the building.”
Cost-effective Renovations at SDSU
Similar cost considerations were also made at San Diego State University’s (SDSU) new Aztec Recreation Center (ARC). Roughly half of the old facility was torn down to create 94,000 square feet of new construction while the remaining 40,000 square feet was renovated.
Mark Zakrzewski, the associate executive director of Aztec Recreation, said major aspects of the renovation portion included:
- New flooring.
- Paint and curtains in the four-court gym.
- Converting the climbing wall and cardio room to a new strength training space.
- Converting an original fitness space to a basketball court.
- Transforming original locker rooms to a conference room, smaller restrooms and a storage space.
Eldorado climbing and bouldering walls were constructed in the new area of the center. Other vendors included in the development were Ecore Flooring, Out-Fit, Advanced Exercise and Power Lift.
“The most effective cost-saving and sustainability strategy is to reuse,” said Zakrzewski. “The decision to save and refurbish a large portion of the existing building was a conscious one. Areas where we had adequate space such as the basketball courts received fresh paint, new flooring and scoreboards to give it a more modern feel at a fraction of the cost of constructing a new gym.”
Zakrzewski added restrooms were built in areas with existing plumbing to save costs and solar panels were added to the gym roof to reduce utility expenses. In fact, he said many solutions that seem like sustainability strategies are also cost-saving measures.
Since the ARC’s opening in August 2022, renovations have allowed Aztec Recreation to increase programming and serve more students in a modern, welcoming environment. Zakrzewski said the spaces feel more open, bright, inviting and functional due to the design of the architect SmithGroup and the construction work of McCarthy Building Companies.
“The response from campus has been tremendous,” said Zakrzewski. “We averaged 6,000 daily visits to the facility this year compared to 3,200 prior to the expansion and renovation.”
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) has also seen similar success with the renovation and expansion of the Hamel Recreation Center on campus. Post-project, the facility now has 158,000 square feet of space.
David Charette, the director of Campus Recreation at UNH, said the department has quadrupled the existing fitness areas and added exciting features like a functional fitness space, a running track, offices for the outdoor adventures programs and more.
Since completion, Charette said he wished he knew then how expensive everything is now as equipment and facility maintenance costs can be a challenge.
“Repairs to motorized divider curtains and housekeeping machines are even expensive,” said Charette. “Buy the best quality products and they will tend to last longer. Flooring products for classrooms and meeting rooms have really improved. We love our luxury vinyl tile flooring. We think carpet tiles are a sensible option because with plenty of extra attic-stock on hand you can replace damaged or worn carpet areas after a few years.”
Overall, any rec center will eventually need updating. As such, choosing the renovation route instead of a new build could save schools thousands of dollars. These different money-saving approaches can help departments better serve their student body, which Massey said is the real end goal for everyone.
“The idea is if you build it, they will come,” said Massey. “We’re hoping to create an engaging space people use for more than just an isolated workout, encouraging the individual to share an experience with the larger campus community.”