William Rainey Harper College recently celebrated the opening and dedication of its new 135,000 sf Foglia Foundation Health and Recreation Center. Previously known as “Building M,” the project represents a successful collaboration among the college, Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) and Palatine Park District in transforming the “loneliest building on campus” into an inviting and engaging hub for wellness, recreation, health education, and athletics. New and updated elements include a natatorium, 10,000 sf fitness center, gymnasium, classrooms, and full-service health clinic.

“With this one facility, we hit the trifecta,” said Mike Clark, Executive Director of the Palatine Park District via press release, adding that the park district is “thrilled, honored and privileged to be part of this great partnership.”

The facility presented a challenge to the design team in figuring out how to configure several small additions onto a large existing building in a way that created enough presence to establish a new cohesive building identify. It also needed to draw visitors in from across campus and the surrounding neighborhood. CannonDesign worked closely with students and staff of Harper College, NCH and the Palatine Park District (the latter two of which will run the wellness clinic and oversee pool operations) through steering committee meetings to create a new identity for the building. The exterior features “Harper Blue” color accents that tie into interior elements, and offers a more open and welcoming entryway to encourage students and visitors to check out the facility.

“What I found most inspiring about the project was the vision on behalf of Harper College to look beyond the boundaries of the campus, and reach out in new ways to the community. This helped forge partnerships that will enhance and expand services and amenities for everyone,” said Frank Gartner, AIA, LEED AP for CannonDesign. “The goal is always to create inspiring and nurturing environments for students to learn, grow and thrive. The commitment from Harper College, NCH and the Palatine Park District allowed for a truly special outcome.”

Another test the team faced was updating interior design elements from decades prior – the building has not been significantly renovated since its’ construction in and reflected popular themes of the era. The aquatic space – which previously used a brown color scheme with heavily textured glazed tile walls – is now a brightly lit, energetic natatorium, complete with graphics reflecting water themes. The original space also lacked air-conditioning, and leaked pool aromas into hallways and the rest of the facility. Stainless steel, spiral duct work, a dedicated dehumidification air handling unit, and integrated exhaust fans provide temperature control and ventilation. Double-seal doors and negative pressurization retain any chlorine or chemical odors.

“The Foglia Foundation Health and Recreation Center offered us a chance to revitalize the MEP systems for the renovated portions of the facility and the common systems, as well as supplying the addition,” said Patrick Dempsey, PE for CannonDesign. “As engineers, we take special pride in being able to update existing buildings to improve the experience for users and extend the useful life of the building. The project is currently targeting LEED-Silver certification, something that wouldn’t be possible without system upgrades that reduced energy and water usage by 15 percent and 30 percent respectively. It was great to update systems and distributions found in previous eras to create a new, modern building that benefits students, staff and the community as a whole.”

The old double-height, underutilized racquetball and squash courts were infilled and transformed into a new fitness center, complete with Olympic-level machines and plenty of natural light. The gymnasium offers open recreation space and a new suspended jogging track. Classrooms incorporate large windows with color-accented sunshades that face the entry to campus and other academic buildings, providing providing shade from the eastern morning sun while maintain while also providing visual security for students and staff.

The final highlight of the facility is a full-service clinic designed specifically for Northwest Community Healthcare. The clinic includes an x-ray suite, 12 exam rooms, administrative offices for all staff, a lab with testing facilities, and a physical therapy space with four treatment rooms, all under one roof.

“At the end of the day, what we have created together is something we never could have done by ourselves,” said Dr. Kenneth Ender, President of Harper College via press release. “We’re showing our educational community and the taxpayers what the future of public institutions looks like, not only in this district and state, but across the country.”