When it comes to updating college facilities originally designed for student athletes,many schools are gravitating toward physical fitness and recreation designed for the entire student body. Kenyon College’s award-winning $70 million Athletic Center is one example of such a transformation.

Gund Partnership (architect) in association with Counsilman-Hunsaker (aquatic designer) designed the 263,000-square-foot athletic center to complement Kenyon College’s spirit of community. Since opening in January 2006, the new facility has become a popular campus centerpiece as well as an exciting recruitment tool. Open views and abundant natural light throughout the building promote interaction while saving energy. To control noise and streamline the roof profile, mechanical systems are located and distributed underground.

With its soaring glass walls, arching steel trusses and sleek lines, the climate-controlled natatorium offers a naturally lit swimming experience with a prismatic sculpture focal point.

In addition to the Olympic-sized pool, 50 meters by 25 yards, it features a wet classroom, deck-accessible locker rooms and a 151-square-foot whirlpool spa. The exceptionally fast pool has 20 short-course and nine long-course lanes; 1-meter and 3-meter springboards; special wide gutter construction; and carefully calibrated water depth.

The versatile pool includes a movable bulkhead to accommodate aquatics lessons, fitness programming and other activities. For athletes, the shallow end of the pool wall was tiled with a dark blue color (as opposed to standard white) to add contrast when the coaching staff uses underwater video analysis.

To enable easy viewing and enjoyment of swimming events, the pool area is equipped with a Colorado Time Systems timing equipment, a full-color video scoreboard, high-quality sound system and 370 second-tier spectator seats.

Meanwhile, a state-of-the-art regenerative media filter saves approximately 600,000 gallons of water annually, compared with sand filters.

The connection between the natatorium and myriad other activities throughout the center promotes user interest. Design features such as internally baffled glass, north-facing skylights, and aluminum and steel louvered sunscreens help balance openness against the need to control direct sunlight on dry surfaces. And there’s plenty of dry space, including a competition-quality indoor track, weight/fitness area and a multipurpose recreation court.

The building also includes Kenyon College’s Tomsich Arena, which holds approximately 1,500 fans and boasts scoreboards, media centers, scorers' table and concessions; racquetball and squash courts; conference rooms; multipurpose studios; and four indoor tennis courts.

Several unique features help maintain the appropriate physical, acoustic and visual separations needed for each area of the building to function. For example, the natatorium is a very visible feature, but it is hermetically sealed from the rest of the building. Nearby tennis courts have netting to restrain flying balls, and there’s a line-of-sight barrier for sound propagation to and from adjacent spaces.

Kenyon College, which started as a small collection of log cabins in 1824, remains proud of its heritage. The school is extremely pleased with the new Kenyon Athletic Center, which has received the New England AIA Merit Award for Design Excellence and the Boston Society of Architects Honor Award. In 2007, the center won a Facilities of Merit award from Athletic Business magazine.