Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center, Grinnell College

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Grinnell, Iowa, USA
277,000 square feet / 26,000 square meters

The Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center is a three-building athletics complex comprising a gymnasium/fitness center, a field house, and a natatorium. PCPA (in collaboration with Sasaki Associates) designed the master plan for the complex in 2002.

An uninterrupted open space from the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center to the football field visually and spatially connects the complex to the main campus. The Bear Recreation and Athletic Center continues the brick-and-glass materials palette PCPA established with the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts (1999) and the Rosenfield Center (2006).The distinguishing features of the gymnasium and natatorium are the projecting metal canopies that run the length of the buildings, culminating in dramatic cantilevers at the main entrances. The first building contains the Darby Gymnasium, an auxiliary practice gym, a fitness center, and locker rooms. The Darby Gym is a 1,250-seat performance gym with volleyball and basketball courts. Courts are below grade, which reduces the overall building height while giving spectators an expansive view of the entire space as they enter from the top of the stands. The fitness center is located on two levels with a mezzanine.

The second phase of the master plan, completed in 2010, includes the natatorium and field house. The 500-seat natatorium includes a 50-meter (164-foot) pool with two movable bulkheads, a multi-purpose room, a climbing wall and locker rooms. Adjacent to athletic fields and an outdoor track, the 400-seat field house contains a six-lane 200-meter (656-foot) track, racquetball and indoor tennis courts, classrooms, coaches’ offices, training and equipment rooms, and locker rooms. A loggia along the outside of the building provides covered spectator seating for football.

Rated LEED Silver, the complex uses renewable energy from 130 geothermal wells to heat and cool the natatorium. The sustainability strategies also include passive features that reduce energy and water consumption. The canopies and sunshades control glare and heat gain to minimize cooling demands. The below-grade locker rooms improve insulation and reduce storm-water management demands by minimizing the building roof areas. In addition, a 132-cubic-meter (35,000-gallon) underground cistern collects rainwater to irrigate the football field and eliminates the use of potable water for grounds-keeping.