PASSING THE TORCH
Georgia Institute of Technology's Campus Recreation Center
Wow. One little word sums up the big response to the new campus recreation center at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The 300,659-square-foot facility combines an aesthetically pleasing design and engineering innovation to create one of the nation's premier college fitness centers.
"When you walk in the front door, there's a definite 'wow' factor," says Michael Edwards, the school's director of campus recreation. "It's very inviting to our students, faculty and staff."
The facility includes a 50-meter competition pool; six-court gymnasium space; fitness center; racquetball courts; climbing wall; leisure pool; offices; locker rooms; and a 500-car, three-level parking deck. Hastings & Chivetta Architects, Inc. in St. Louis took on the project. Their design makes the previous single-purpose facility usable for all recreational activities.
The center's size and openness offer an airiness that fosters an inviting atmosphere for the school's 16,500 students. The facility, which boasts more than 204 state-of-the-art fitness machines and a fifth-floor track with a view of downtown Atlanta, has seen a jump in recreation activity since it opened last August. In February, the center hosted more than 70,000 visitors, a nearly 88-percent increase over the previous average.
"We're blowing away past monthly records," Edwards says. "The students are very excited about it."
University officials had many goals for the new campus recreation center. They wanted to provide students with a top recreation and aquatic center, one that encompasses the best Georgia Tech has to offer in student life and recreation. They also strove to build a world-class aquatic facility for the men's and women's varsity swimming and diving teams and attract national, state and local aquatic events.
By achieving these aims, the school gave itself a distinct marketing advantage over other colleges. The rec center has become a must-see attraction on the campus tour, giving potential students another reason to consider the university.
"It's a stop for all our prospective students," Edwards says. "They just stop dead once they step inside."
Tour guides did not get the same reaction from the university's original recreation center, which was built in 1977 and had become a drab, obsolete workout place. When Georgia Tech was tapped as the site of the 1996 Olympic swimming and diving competitions, a 15,000-seat facility was attached to the existing building. The venue, however, was constructed solely for the Summer Games and was not suitable for year-round use. The venue's extreme vertical height was necessary to accommodate the 15,000 spectator seats, 13,000 of which were temporary.
Hastings & Chivetta's design incorporates an intermediate floor at the fourth level over the pool to accommodate about 60,000 square feet of gymnasium and multipurpose space. To further complicate matters, it was required that the existing roof remain intact. Solar panels that cover the roof are part of a 25-year research project being conducted by Georgia Tech, Georgia Power and the U.S. Department of Energy. The solution was to construct a 175-foot prestressed concrete floor span, believed to be the longest in the world, underneath the existing roof and around the existing structural support. Building a floor inside the existing structure was a creative solution—and one that some suggested could not be done.
The facility's architects, however, embraced the challenge. The idea of achieving an engineering feat at Georgia Tech, one of the country's top engineering schools, seemed appropriate. A great deal of designing, engineering and testing went into the floor before it was ever built.
"The reality was that it was very complicated," says Erik Kocher, a principal at Hastings & Chivetta. "It ties back to Georgia Tech. That was the fun part about it."