Home > Structures

More than a Game: Sports and Recreation in Higher Education

More than a Game: Sports and Recreation in Higher Education

For more than a century now, sports have been a major part of the landscape in higher education.  And, for as long as this relationship has existed, there has been a need to allocate money, space, and infrastructure to the development of on-campus sports and recreation.  While conversations about sports and higher education are often focused on varsity athletics, there also exists a need to examine how the relationship between sports and higher education is developing in terms of the general student population.  Over the last decade, there has been a push amongst colleges and universities to build increasingly more attractive sports and recreation facilities to serve their students and faculty.  With this push, these facilities are continuing to develop a diverse set of sports and recreation opportunities, which presents additional challenges to their design and construction.

UC Santa Barbara Interactive Learning Pavilion Architect – LMN

Sports and recreation facilities are a major part of the market in higher education, representing a significant draw to prospective students as well as a resource for current students to explore a variety of sports.  Tom Jones, Project Executive for C.W. Driver Companies, explains, “any school tour is going to include or end with the recreation center.”  In recent years, higher education sports and recreation facilities have evolved to become more robust, including features like rock climbing walls, swimming pools, indoor tracks, sophisticated exercise equipment, hot and cold tubs, and a host of different options depending on where the school is located.  In places with access to suitable water, students are able to borrow kayaks and surfboards, which are housed and maintained within these facilities.  As higher education sports and recreation facilities have expanded their offerings, the space needed to construct and update them has grown in tandem.  According to Jones, building these facilities in limited spaces often presents unique challenges that can be time consuming if they aren’t managed correctly.

One firm who has demonstrated a proclivity for opening these sorts of higher education facilities is C.W. Driver, a leading builder in California who has been in operation since 1919.  Over the last several years, C.W. Driver has completed several noteworthy projects including recreational facilities for California State Universities Northridge, Long Beach, Cal Poly, Pomona, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, and San Francisco.  Jones points out that the activities available at these robust sports and recreation–rock climbing, swimming pools, etc.–provide options that make them valuable assets to colleges and universities.

Earlier this year in February, C.W. Driver announced the completion of the Rains Center for Athletics, Recreation, & Wellness at Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont, California.  The new facility is 95,000-square-feet and supports the Sagehens’ varsity, intramural, and club athletes as well as student physical education classes and fitness and recreation programming for students, faculty, and staff.   Notable among the features of the Rains Center at Pomona-Pitzer College is the expansive use of glass throughout and multiple outdoor patios.  The facade is composed of architectural precast concrete and fiber cement panels while the interior features polished concrete and high-performance finishes. 

The new facility is replacing the previous structure that was built in 1989 and is 15,000-square-feet larger than its predecessor.  While more than half of the rebuilt facility is entirely new construction, other areas of the older structure were incorporated by updating and reconfiguring the interior with the goal of enhancing the building’s usability.  One area that remained largely intact was the Voelkel Gym, which houses the men’s and women’s basketball teams.  The gym was updated with a new two-court practice and recreational gym above the fitness area.  An additional weight room–dedicated to varsity athletics–was added as well as new locker rooms that were “right-sized” to provide enough space for the groups using them.  

Over recent years, C.W. Driver has gained a reputation for delivering higher education sports and recreation facilities that double as iconic campus structures.  Another example is the Student Recreation Center at Cal State Northridge, which features a 40-foot, multi-story climbing wall in the building’s main entrance and circulation area.  It incorporates a three-court gymnasium, a multi-activity court, an 18,500-square-foot weight and fitness space, a drop-in childcare room, and a host of other multipurpose spaces as well as a variety of outdoor recreational equipment.  

UC Santa Barbara Interactive Learning Pavilion Architect – LMN

Another notable project completed by the team at C.W. Driver is the Lastinger Tennis Center at Chapman University in Orange, California.  In need of a new tennis center to reflect Chapman University’s commitment to its student-athletes competing at the NCAA Division III level, they turned to C.W. Driver and their expertise in higher education facilities.  Chapman University’s new Lastinger Tennis Center features seven lighted courts in their cardinal-and-gray colors as well as drinking fountains, expansive shade structures, ample site lighting, and seating for both spectators and players taking a break during the action.  The new facility represents a significant upgrade on Chapman University’s previous tennis facilities.  The project was completed with a fast-track schedule and finished while the campus remained fully occupied.  

Jones notes that the University was eager to complete the facilities and have them open for the next school session, which meant the project moved forward quickly to design the grading followed shortly by the start of the demolition process.  With the site prepped for the new facility, design began on the courts, which included the installation of post-tensioned slabs.  This was followed by what Jones describes as the “finish work” of the surrounding areas such as the restrooms and venues facilities.  Jones says the fast-track schedule allows facilities to be designed in pieces and then built, which avoids a lengthy design process that would eventually be followed by building.  Designing and building simultaneously, Jones says, “works out a lot better for the schedule.”  This certainly turned out to be the case for the Lastinger Tennis Center, as the project was successful in finishing on time.

From varsity, club, and intramural sports to rock climbing, swimming, and kayaking, the number of activities housed within sports and recreation facilities in higher education will likely continue to expand.  The task of accommodating and innovating new facilities to meet these growing needs has fallen squarely on the professionals of the AEC industry.  In this regard, firms like C.W. Driver are leading the way in developing new, robust sports and recreation facilities that improve an institution’s standing for prospective students and provide unique benefits to students, faculty, and staff.