Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) New Sports & Recreation Center

UPDATE: September 5, 2012
WPI Dedicates its Sports and Recreation Center
Today, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) officially dedicated its 145,000-square-foot, LEED-certified Sports and Recreation Center; one of the finest higher education athletic facilities in the Northeast and one of the greenest sports centers in the nation. In addition to providing WPI students, faculty, and staff with state-of-the art sports and fitness facilities, the new center also provides the university outstanding space for hosting regional and national robotics competitions, as well as such non-sporting such as admissions open houses, career fairs, and national academic conferences.

The new center now houses the following:

  • An 11,000-square-foot fitness area with the latest fitness equipment
  • A 29,000-square-foot, four-court gymnasium
  • A competition length (25-meter) swimming pool and natatorium
  • A three-lane elevated jogging track
  • Racquetball and squash courts
  • An eight-person rowing tank for crew training
  • Multiple workout class studios
  • A training and rehabilitation suite for varsity athletes, trainers, and coaching staff
  • Offices, conference rooms, and support spaces for the athletics department
  • Dedicated space for WPI's multifaceted robotics program


Healthy Mind, Healthy Body, Healthy Building.
Founded in 1865, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed into one of the country’s most renowned engineering schools. Its student population is not only academically exceptional, but WPI also recognizes that a healthy mind is supported by a healthy body. Currently, pursuing WPI’s vision of a “healthy mind, healthy body” is achieved at the Alumni Gym, which was constructed in 1916 when there were only 539 male students. WPI now boasts more than 4,000 students, 25% of whom are women. With this increase in student body, the new 145,000 sq. ft. recreation facility is eagerly awaited.

This new recreational facility will be home to a new four-court 29,000 sq. ft. gymnasium. The facility will also be used for special events such as career fairs, admissions open houses and alumni events. The facility will include separate areas for physical education, a competition-length swimming and diving pool with seating for 250 spectators, rowing tanks, a three-lane elevated jogging track, multi-purpose meeting rooms, locker rooms, a training and rehabilitation room with hydrotherapy tanks, and offices for coaches and staff members. This facility will not only serve the community for decades to come, but it will also further enhance WPI’s outstanding academic reputation as a facility that is truly world-class.

Going Green
WPI is a leader in utilizing sustainable design in its facilities, and being an engineering school, it is only natural that they go for the “green.” This building will be the third LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building on campus. Choosing precast concrete as a primary building material enabled the project team to achieve LEED points as precast concrete has a “high recycled content and it is usually locally harvested and placed,” according to Bill Kearney, Project Executive with Gilbane Building Company, the project’s construction manager. Precast concrete recycles fly ash, which is a fine, glass-like powder caused by coal-fired electric power generation gases. Adding fly ash to the cement mix actually strengthens the concrete and eliminates the need to bring the fly ash to a landfill.

“Speed of construction, lower cost, and resistance to moisture and corrosion” makes precast concrete an obvious choice for the natatorium and the structural members supporting the gym, explains Kearney. Kearney also adds that “given the current market conditions, lead times for precast concrete were reduced,” allowing the facility to be operational sooner.

Unique Vibration and Ductwork Issues Addressed
Unistress Corporation, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is the project’s local precast concrete producer. Unistress manufactured the special long-span precast concrete arches as well as the double tee beams which form the roof of the pool and serve as the floor of a basketball court/multi-purpose gym located directly above the pool. The precast concrete arches span 110 feet, creating a dramatic, graceful openness to the pool area. This design was based on an arch much like a traditional, arched stone bridge with a keystone instead of a more typical moment frame design. Unistress and the design team encountered a unique challenge of mitigating the vibration caused by the gymnasium floor located directly above the pool. Unistress worked closely with the design team and utilized the stiffness provided by the precast concrete to dampen the vibration effects from the gymnasium. The stiffness of the precast concrete system enabled the arches to span 110 feet. In addition, an interesting aesthetic detail was the incorporation of a large, 5’6” circular opening for the HVAC ductwork system located near the end of the arch. This opening created additional challenges, as it was located where much of the reinforcing steel would typically be located. Unistress also provided the precast concrete stadia for seating in the pool area.

The completed facility will have 50 solar thermal panels on the roof to heat the pool water. The facility also contains 50,000-gallon underground storage tanks for rainwater collection from the roof, which will be used by the cooling system to reduce the building’s water consumption by up to 800,000 gallons a year. Even the energy produced by using the exercise equipment will generate electricity and reduce the facility’s electrical consumption.

Now that the building construction has begun, the excitement on campus is growing for the project and the opening of the new recreational facility is eagerly anticipated. Precast concrete erection was completed ahead of schedule and the remaining construction can be watched live via web cams on the school’s website. This dramatic new facility is scheduled to be completed during the summer of 2012 and promises to inspire the academic community as well as the green building community.

Precast Concrete Natatorium Structure Completed
A major feature of the Sports and Recreation Center is the precast concrete natatorium structure housing a 25-meter competition swimming pool with spectator seating. The structure features five-piece precast concrete bents spaced at 14 ft-9 in on center spanning 110 ft across the pool. The five pieces include two column pieces, two corner pieces, and one center beam piece. Precast concrete double-tees span between the bents and support the four-court gymnasium above. The steel-frame structure of the gymnasium is supported on the precast concrete natatorium structure. The natatorium structure is also integrated into other surrounding steel structures.

This project surely challenges future generations of WPI engineers to push the limits of precast concrete even further and will be a statement of durability, style and grace for decades to come.

Project Details








Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, MA


Cannon Design, Grand Island, NY


Gilbane Building Company, Boston, MA

Owners Representative:

Cardinal Construction, New Canaan, CT

Sq. Footage:




Structural Precast Elements:

135 pieces

Architectural Precast Elements:

95 pieces


2013 PCI Design Award – Best Higher Education Building


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