Athletics at Belmont Hill School, Belmont, MA, is one serious subject. As a requirement for all students (425 boys, grades 7 through 12), the athletic program at the 75-year-old school complements the academic tradition of achievement with winning teams, competitive spirit, and a newly constructed college-quality sports facility.
Belmont Hill has long been known for its strong athletic program. The Gerald R. Jordan Athletic Center confirms the school’s commitment to live up to this reputation. As part of the extremely competitive Independent School League, Belmont Hill School needed a building that reflected the prowess of its program, teams, and players.
The two existing facilities – a rink and gymnasium – were outdated and ill-suited to serving the needs of 16 interscholastic sports, 57 teams, and over 700 athletic events each year. “Our program is pretty big. We just needed more space to accommodate those programs,” explains Gary Hall, director of finance and operations, Belmont Hill School.
Site Design Dilemmas
Located in one of Boston’s most desirable suburbs, Belmont Hill School is nestled on 26 acres in a residential neighborhood. It was important that the new facility blend seamlessly with the rest of the campus, while not overpowering the nearby houses. The school hired Cambridge-based Jeffrey Millman Associates (now in association with ADD Inc.), who devised a plan to build a new, all-encompassing building to house the indoor sports venues.
Making a 93,800-square-foot facility look residential in scale took no magic or illusion – just some careful planning. “We took advantage of a sloping site to bury the biggest pieces of the complex back into the hillside. That allowed us to cut down the scale of the box on the neighborhood side,” says Jeffrey Millman, principal in charge. Smaller spaces, including the locker rooms, training suites, offices, and common rooms, are used like a stage front to mask the larger basketball courts and rink behind them. Neighbors looking out their windows across Marsh Street see a building with eaves heights that are residential in scale, and do not disrupt the church steeple views and campus’ beautiful tree vistas.
Additionally, similar materials were used on the exterior of the Jordan Center to keep design continuity with other campus buildings (i.e. water-struck brick, white trimmed multi-pane windows, and pitched standing-seam metal roofs).
Construction Piece by Piece
The discovery of problematic subsurface conditions was an unexpected construction hurdle. Nearly a million dollars in unsuitable fill and ledge were removed. “With the benefit of hindsight, if we had done more subsurface testing, we would have known more. It wouldn’t have changed the final cost, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise the way it was,” explains Hall.
In an effort to keep the students’ athletics on campus during the two years of construction, the two existing facilities were gradually demolished, while activity began on the Jordan Center between them. Once both buildings were demolished, students began to populate the new facility in phases as construction continued. Careful plans were drawn up with the pre-selected construction manager, A.J. Martini Inc., Malden, MA, to minimize disruption to the school’s sporting events. “The construction phasing was a game of hopscotch. But the end result was that it was on time and on budget and they have a facility now that’s really college-level quality,” says Millman.
Neighbors, Athletes, and Fans are Won Over
With all the sports now under one roof, spectators are expanding the number of games they attend, and sports they support. “On a winter game day, which is Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Independent School League, you literally find parents and siblings running back and forth between playing venues trying to catch both games because they’re only five, 10 steps away,” says Millman. The previous facilities, separated by a parking lot, prohibited many spectators from viewing sports at the other building.
“People like to watch field events from the balcony – so it serves us well for both indoor and outdoor sports,” Hall comments. The Jordan Center, with its new rink/field house, two basketball courts, a seven-court squash pavilion, wrestling arena, training suite, common room, and spectator and student locker/support facilities, has won over the trustees, alumni, students, and spectators.
No complaints have been received from neighbors either, who are also enjoying reduced traffic in front of their homes due to the relocation of entrances and parking.
The project team exhibited excellent foresight, implementation, problem-solving, and dedication – the mark of a truly successful collaboration. “We had an architect that listened to us. We had a builder who understood what it took to do this while school was in session. We just had a great team, I think,” reflects Hall.
Jana J. Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.