Feature Article - July 2007
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports & Recreation Surfaces

By Dana Carman


Further north, along the banks of the Charles River in Boston, sits Boston University and its young, award-winning 270,000-square-foot recreation and fitness facility. Opened a little over two years ago, this facility, similar to the Weinstein Center, was designed with an eye toward making it an open, airy, welcoming environment. Both Tom Roberts and Warin Dexter, the executive director of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and also of the Fitness and Recreation Center at Boston University, spent a great deal of time on the nuances, details and subtle design elements of these buildings.

BU's facility features an 18,000-square-foot weight and cardio room, two separate swimming pools, two multi-use gymnasiums with seven courts, an elevated 1/7-mile jogging track, racquetball and squash courts, several multipurpose activity rooms and classrooms, a 35-foot climbing wall, a pro shop, a center for rehabilitation and fitness/conditioning and emergency medical services education, locker rooms and a snack bar.

The weight and cardio room features great views and spans two floors. It's circular in shape as it's housed in the main cylinder of the building. On the surface, Dexter said the weight and cardio rooms feature a vulcanized rubber surface.

"We were looking for something that could be cleaned easily after dealing with sweat and shoes, as well as handle the stress of multiple pieces of equipment in the cardio areas," he said. "One thing that you really want to go along with floor quality is something that retains its luster after a period of time. We average 5,000 students a day along with alumni, faculty and staff in our facility, so we bought something we won't have to be replacing in three to four years."

Because the seven-court gymnasium houses a lot of different types of activities, it's basically two huge spaces, one covered in a wood floor and the other with a synthetic floor.

"Hardwood looks beautiful, is incredibly resilient and lasts for a long time if you have a maintenance plan, and we do," Dexter said.

But because this area doesn't house just basketball and volleyball, Dexter had to consider what else would be taking place on these floors. BU has a whole host of athletics going on in these spaces, which is why the other floor is a synthetic, more multipurpose floor.

One sport that Dexter really wanted to accommodate was inline hockey, and after trying out several floors for this purpose he settled on a product out of Germany. So far he is very pleased with its performance.

Overlooking the four-court side of the gym and the cardio area is the elevated jogging track, which is surrounded by windows and also looks out onto the busy Boston streets and the Charles River at different points. Dexter took the views into account in the design of the space.

"With all the things to look at, it's hard to be bored when you're jogging around the track," he said.

Covering the track is a synthetic rolled rubber surface. Off to the sides of the track are several stretching areas, an area with stationary bikes, and another with speed bags.

BU's facility is also a campus hub and features social spaces with a juice bar, furniture, television and wireless access. "We wanted to make this a central space where students could engage not only in physical activity and wellness, but also sit down and take a break at the juice bar, talk about school projects, meet friends or relax after a workout," Dexter said.

The Fitness and Recreation Center also houses nutrition classrooms (including a demonstration kitchen), fitness training and testing rooms, and the emergency medical program. The multipurpose rooms host a variety of activities, including Spinning classes, dance (for which there's also a dance studio theater that seats 240), yoga, fencing, martial arts and more. Most of these rooms are covered with wood floors, though in a few there are covers over the wood depending on the activity (e.g., tap dancing).

This state-of-the-art facility is "like a dream come true" for Dexter who said, "It really allows us to create the type of quality we want and enhance the culture and the way students think about fitness and well-being. It really becomes a lifestyle, and students take a lot of pride in this facility."

It's hard to do a building like BU's fitness center or the Weinstein Center true justice as the nuances and carefully planned details mentioned earlier are just too numerous.

Another reason for the success of both of these buildings is that they were built with the future in mind.

"We spent an awful lot of time trying to put together a complete package," Dexter said. "We built flexibility into it. It wasn't built with the short-term in mind."

"Our programs change dramatically every five to 10 years," Roberts said. "We need to anticipate those changes and needed to make the facility adaptable to those changes."