A Walk in the Woods
Butler University Health & Recreation Complex
Near Butler University's new Health & Recreation Complex (HRC), you might recognize the nearly-80-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse from the popular movie "Hoosiers." The Hinkle Fieldhouse's auxiliary gym, as well as a basement fitness area in the student union, served Butler's recreation needs for a long time. But the university and its students knew the space was limited, and something had to be done.
"Butler didn't have a recreation center," said Mike Gardner, vice president of operations at Butler University. "It's amazing that we've done as well enrollment-wise as we have without one."
Opened in July 2006, the new HRC combines four existing functions into a one-stop shop for student health and wellness, and provides an essential link between the athletic and academic parts of the campus.
"It's a link between the historic fieldhouse building and the academic campus," said Tom Cheesman, associate principal for RATIO Architects, which collaborated with Moody-Nolan Inc. on the design of the new facility. "Hinkle Fieldhouse is on the national register and is really the signature athletic facility on campus, but it's always been once removed from the rest of the campus. This helps create a bridge."
The exterior of the new complex is tied to the fieldhouse, as well as a new apartment village constructed in that area of the campus, through the color of brick and metal. Clerestory windows and metal overhangs visually separate the roof and reduce the effective height of the building, ensuring it does not compete with the nearby historic structure.
Another way designers ensured that the facility would not compete in mass and feel with the existing Hinkle Fieldhouse was to design the HRC into the side of the hill. This also allows the building to serve as a connection for students to pass through from one section of campus to another.
"The site was very difficult, because it sits on a hill, and it's also next to the oldest stand of woods in central Indiana, with some beech trees that are over 150 years old," Cheesman said. "It is a very precious woods that's right near the building, so we had to carefully select which trees to save in order to put the building in there and do the construction."
The old woods also provide for vibrant views from many of the facility's interior spaces. From a single-story entrance, the HRC opens into three stories of fitness spaces, gyms, a track above and the woods beyond, giving the facility an open feel. Nestled into the woods, fitness and pool spaces provide expansive views of the trees through to the formal Holcomb Gardens that lie beyond.
"We've taken advantage of the great site views outside the windows," Cheesman said.
In addition to three levels of fitness spaces, there are multipurpose rooms for aerobics, yoga, martial arts and other activities, with one wall open to the woods. Other amenities include a juice bar, a student lounge with study pods, and high-tech meeting rooms. All in all, Cheesman said, the facility has a real health-club feel and is designed for all students to use.
"It's all about the student," he explained. "Athletes are able to use it too, because they're students, but the swim team doesn't dominate the pool, and the football team doesn't dominate the weight room. The design concept is really more of a health club feel, and I think that has had a very good response."
The main promenade that connects the student housing, athletic, recreation and academic campus facilities outside continues within the HRC, connecting various recreational options. The design provides for views into fitness spaces, as well as the gym and the pool.
The pool itself is unique as well. Designed as a single body of water, the pool features six lap lanes and a separate leisure area connected by a 6-foot-wide opening. The two portions of the pool run through separate heaters, allowing for different temperature settings. This way, cooler lap lanes can be used by serious swimmers, while the warmer leisure and current channel area is enjoyed by students who just want to take a relaxing dip.
The 1/10-mile jogging track is based on the runner's experience and provides distant focal points in each direction, opening up to multiple spaces. "The track is unusual," Cheesman said. "It's not an oval. It meanders and curves along. When you're on it, you're not only able to see out windows and look into the woods, but you can also look down into the weight room or look into the gym to see what they're playing. Then further along, you can look into the pool or promenade/lobby space. It's a really very active path."
The design and construction team worked closely to bring the project in under its original budget. This was done in part by focusing on using materials wisely, placing them where their impact would really be felt. For example, brick, limestone and metal panel are used on front elevations, while insulated precast panels are used on the back side of the building.
Bringing the health services and counseling into the facility helps to bridge students' physical, mental and cardiovascular health, while also providing a less visible entrance to these services.
"It allowed us to provide a confidential and discreet way for the students accessing those centers to do that without being noticed," Gardner said. "Our old health and counseling center was a stand-alone building right in the central part of the campus, and students were more reluctant to use it. At the new center, everybody walks in the front door, and there's an alternative entrance to the health and counseling portion."
This change has helped contribute to a 50 percent increase in visits to the health and counseling services. In addition, the fitness and recreation portions of the HRC are seeing outstanding attendance.
"According to our vice president of student affairs, we've gone from 500 students a day to 700, and I think right before spring break, when everybody wants to look good, we were hitting 1,000 a day," Gardner said. "I think the traffic speaks for itself."