inPRACTICE / COLLEGE RECREATION: Unified Wellness & Health
Babson Recreation & Athletics Complex // Wellesley, Mass.
With an enrollment of just 27 students, Babson Institute in Wellesley, Mass., held its first classes on Sept. 3, 1919. And 100 years later, in the fall of 2019, Babson College—a private business school with more than 2,300 undergraduates—unveiled its new Babson Recreation and Athletics Complex (BRAC).
The original fitness center at Babson was renovated and expanded, doubling the size to 175,000 square feet. And while the new facility will support the school's recreational offerings and varsity athletics, it will also augment campus-wide academic needs by providing space for examinations, social gatherings and the Babson community's overall health and wellness initiatives.
The new state-of-the-art complex houses Babson RecFit, a 10,000-square-foot, two-story fitness center featuring both a cardio and strength-training suite, plus two multipurpose studio spaces for fitness classes. There are three multi-use sports courts, a 25-yard indoor pool, an indoor track, a dance studio, two squash courts and a racquetball court. In addition to students, the complex offers programs and services for faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
Timothy Mansfield, a principal at Massachusetts-based architecture firm CambridgeSeven, explained that they were involved with the renovation and expansion of BRAC from the early planning stages, dating back to 2014. "The planning process was quite significant as it involved not only the athletic department but the entire Babson community as well. As such, the program expanded and became more complex, to address the needs of the whole campus."
Mansfield described how they facilitated numerous workshops and presentations to the entire college community to solicit input and engage key stakeholders. "The process was very inclusive, and the feedback was great. The vision was clear from the start, however the scale of the project did increase to accommodate the expanded program."
The old facility desperately needed work, which proved to be quite challenging since many of the systems of the existing building were outdated and in need of replacement, such as the archaic fire system. "One of the major goals of the project was that at the end of the entire effort, both the new and renovated spaces were required to feel as 'one'—new and refreshed," said Mansfield. "We worked hard to develop a crisp, neutral interior design palette that would refresh the existing and easily tie in to the new portions of the building, essentially making them one holistic facility."
The design allows for multiple dimensions of programming capacity, according to Mansfield, who pointed out some of the unique amenities. "The Sports Medicine suite has been designed to include all the latest training equipment needed to support Babson's student athletes. From the soaking tubs, ice baths, etc., the suite is strategically positioned to allow for direct access to the athletic fields.
"The other important space is the Recreation Center itself," said Mansfield. "A vast, multipurpose space accommodates a variety of intramural athletics—from basketball, volleyball and tennis to badminton and even indoor soccer. Additionally, the center has been outfitted with a complex AV/media system that can support concerts, convocations and gatherings up to 1,500 people. There really is no space like it on campus."
Multipurpose rooms can host meetings and general classroom programming, and Mansfield said that support areas were major considerations, particularly how users would access the facility and how the college provided security. "The Athletics offices were designed to finally bring the whole department under one roof—this was really important."
The new facility will also allow Babson to compete for the top Division lll recruits in the country, and Mansfield pointed out that new locker rooms were designed to support all of the NCAA's athletes equally—both men and women. "The upgrades included new restroom and changing rooms as well as custom lockers designed specifically for each sport, another important goal."
The addition of an outdoor plaza was an intentional effort to extend the programming of the facility beyond the walls of the building, according to Mansfield. "The plaza is used as a convening space for athletes and the Babson community at large. The South Lawn will be used for informal gatherings, intramural games, functions and just hanging out on the south side of the building."
The project sought to achieve LEED Silver status, and Mansfield mentioned the PV Array, a solar energy system located on the roof of the Rec Center, as one of the key elements of sustainability. "The materials of the building fall within the Babson campus standards—primarily brick and stone. (We) developed a sophisticated envelope system that met or exceeded all environmental standards with regard to air and water filtration."
BRAC has been a big hit, and Mansfield said they've heard nothing but praise. "The entire Babson community is thrilled with the new facility and it's getting a real work out—just the way we planned!" RM