Walker Field House
Many members of the College community rely on Walker Field House (designed by Daniel F. Tully, 1982) as a space for physical activities, including intramurals, varsity athletics, life-time fitness, and physical education. The design of Walker Field House, with its hyperbolic paraboloid roof, is striking and permits a large expanse to be contained under a single roof without interior columns. The building was partially renovated in 2000 with updated locker rooms and a new floor. However, Walker Field House has been determined to be the building in the worst condition of any building on campus and its deteriorating condition together with its mode of construction result in a full 3% of the College’s carbon emissions. Given its current condition, its outdated facilities and the importance of such a building to the College community, Walker will need to be demolished and a replacement constructed. Our exploration of a replacement for Walker will require an extensive review of the location of athletic and sport activities on campus in order to capitalize fully on this important project and enable future aspects of the Master Plan. In particular, the athletic functions in Kenyon Hall (currently volleyball, squash, rowing, and the varsity weight room) should be incorporated into a new field house, thereby freeing up approximately 30,000 square feet of Kenyon for other needs, and an alternative location for the tennis courts should be determined (see Unsequenced Projects). A new field house will provide appropriate space for large all-campus gatherings, such as commencement and will allow for adequate office and common space for Athletics faculty, staff and students.
Inclusive Learning Community
Walker Field House serves the College in a multitude of capacities, providing unique opportunities for student learning and leadership outside the classroom. Walker houses a variety of practice and competition venues for the college's 550+ student-athletes while also providing numerous recreational and larger event opportunities for the campus community. In any given week, Walker might play host to several varsity team practices, an indoor fencing match, physical education courses, such as nutrition or tennis, ultimate frisbee club practices, community badminton, intramurals, recreational swimming, Life Fitness classes open to the public, and much more. That said, the Field House does not have the infrastructure to support the diversity of learning and community building activities taking place. This has resulted in concerns about access and equity. For example, its locker rooms are not in line with best practices for access among transgender students and, like all of our Athletic facilities, it does not have gender neutral restrooms. More broadly, locker room space is not sufficient to meet the needs of our active community, which deters participation in physical activity. In the winter months, indoor space is limited, which minimizes the informal opportunities for members of the campus community to engage in unstructured recreational activities. The current classroom in Walker also has poor acoustics and limited temperature control, which severely restrict its utilization. Finally, limited office and common space precludes satisfactory mentoring and advising of students. A new Walker Field House will address these concerns and create an inclusive and accessible year-round space for all members of the Vassar community.
Renovating rather than replacing a building is the more sustainable approach to addressing evolving programmatic needs whenever possible. However, the numerous structural deficiencies of Walker Field House suggest that this is impossible. Furthermore, the desire to relocate functions from Kenyon Hall to the site of the Athletic & Fitness Center, further suggests that replacement of the building is necessary. A new field house will provide opportunities to showcase numerous sustainable features such as LED lighting, already present in Walker, and solar features such as a combined solar-powered electrical and heating system for the replacement to Kresge Pool. Following the example of Brown University, installation of solar panels could help generate enough thermal energy to both heat the pool and light the building. The current roof design has resulted in a variety of issues, including problems with storm-water management, that must be avoided in any new design.