ATHLETICS PLUS ACADEMICS
Westfield State College's Woodward Athletic Center
The dedication in September 2004 of Westfield State College's new Woodward Athletic Center coincided with the school's 165th anniversary. It also marked a turning point for athletics at Westfield State and went far to boost school spirit and pride.
"The athletes were using terribly outdated facilities for many years," says Timothy Mansfield, AIA, principal at Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. (C7A), which led the Westfield project from programming through construction. "The old Westfield State gym was not much larger than most high-school gyms."
The contemporary, $14 million, 80,000-square-foot facility now ranks as an NCAA Division III sports venue for western Massachusetts.
Not only does the center accommodate top-notch athletic spaces, but it unites sports with related academic departments including the Athletic Department and the Movement Science, Sport and Leisure Studies Department.
"The primary goal of this project was to provide an up-to-date, functional facility that would properly and simultaneously serve the similar and differing needs of the academic and athletic programs," explains Carol Persson, chair of the Movement Science Department.
The challenge was to design a facility that met the needs of its different uses, while creating an energetic balance between form and function.
"The main design goal was to bring a facility to campus that expressed the energy and enthusiasm of athletics along with the synergy of the academic programs," Mansfield adds. For the academic portion, C7A designed a long rectilinear volume with brick façade that reflects the architecture of other campus buildings. A gently curved roof, clerestory windows, and a combination of flat and ribbed metal panels distinguish the field house.
"We felt the tautness of the metal skin reflected an energy associated with the athletic events going on inside," Mansfield says.
Despite limited space and budget, C7A managed to design an expansive 36,000-square-foot field house with one varsity and two practice basketball courts; a varsity volleyball court; four-lane, NCAA-regulation competition track; and seating for 1,000 spectators. There's also aerobic and weight-training areas, locker rooms, laboratories and classrooms, a lobby and reception area, and concessions. The center also serves the community, hosting local meets and state-wide events for regional schools and independent teams. An outreach program for seniors and a summer camp for kids are also part of the facility's design.
To make the interior space work efficiently and clarify circulation for both athletic and academic visitors, C7A focused on a simple, clear diagram with a central spine of access.
"The free-flowing and wide-open layout of the facility permits two large programs of somewhat dissimilar missions to successfully co-exist," Persson says.
Which means a smart floor plan was in order.
"We were able to design an extremely efficient floor plan," Mansfield says. Less area used for circulation meant more square footage for truly valuable program elements. The circulation spine serves to clearly indicate the access to the field house, first-floor training and equipment rooms, lockers, and a cleat vestibule that leads out to the stadium. A grand staircase in the main lobby guides visitors, faculty and students upstairs to the Movement Science Department and offices for the Athletic Department. On the second floor, students can gather in the beautiful student lounge that overlooks a huge park across the street before heading to class or attending practice.
Clear circulation also enhances the center's attraction as a recruitment tool, as well as a competition venue.
"Students at [Westfield] will be familiar with the center's layout, but there are a lot of visiting teams and parents that come in, and we wanted to make sure the facility was extremely easy to use," Mansfield says. Thoughtful locker room layouts follow suit.
C7A's clever use of materials was also key to maximizing program elements.
"By designing with off-the-shelf materials in a creative manner, we could increase the square footage of the structure," Mansfield says. "The more square footage, the more usable space for the college."
For example, C7A designed the exterior façade using concrete masonry block in an innovative fashion. Using a combination of custom colors, aggregates and finishes as well as modifying the typical 8-inch-by-16-inch concrete block to a 4-inch-by-16-inch proportion gives it an appearance of Roman brick at far less cost.
There was one particularly important outcome of this budget-stretching attitude.
"We were able to sneak in an official NCAA track," Mansfield says. Even with its cost-saving measures, the facility has strong visual appeal.
"The facility is aesthetically beautiful and spectacular," Persson says. "To say that the Woodward Center is a dream come true, a magical reality, for the students, athletes, faculty and athletic staff, as well as the college community and citizens of the city of Westfield, is an understatement."