Boston College Connell Recreation Center Chestnut Hill, MA

Project Category : College/University 

Total Construction Cost : N/A

Total Gross Square Feet : 244,000

Approximate Cost Per Square Foot : N/A

How was the facility funded? : Private donations

Project Description:

The Connell Recreation Center is a truly unique facility both rooted in the tradition of Boston Colleges collegiate gothic architecture and infused with leading-edge 21st century programming space and amenities. Standing four stories tall, the 244,000 sf center is a beacon for the campus that redefines the future of fitness, recreation and wellness for the campus.

In line with Boston College’s principles around wellness, inclusivity and student-life, the building is designed to welcome all students through diverse programming, design choices and amenities. The building offers students and staff the opportunity to play, exercise, play sports, gather with friends and more. The design process was highly collaborative and united Boston College leaders, students, staff, design partners and builders.

As key school officials explained during the design process, This building elevates campus happiness. It’s a place on campus where everyone can come and connect around shared human goals to advance health and wellbeing.

Open less than a year, the building is already having a significant impact. Early data revealed a 25% increase in student recreation memberships and a 40% increase in activity and usage in the early weeks of the buildings opening semester. The project has also received extensive praise from local and trade media.


The result of a three-year planning process, the Connell Recreation Center is informed by extensive community engagement and design. It brings diverse new spaces and programs to the campus and those who call it home. Key spaces in the building, include:

  • Fitness and free weight areas distributed throughout the building as neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality located in between the major program elements.
  • A four-court gymnasium and two-court multipurpose activity court.
  • An elevated jogging track perfect for Boston Marathon training. In fact, the incline in the track is meant to pay tribute to nearby Heartbreak Hill on Mile 21 of the famous race.
  • Three-court tennis center for recreation and intercollegiate practice.
  • An aquatic center including a 10-lane competition pool with diving, a shallow learn-to-swim pool, and hot tub.
  • A three-sided climbing wall with space for 6-8 people at once offering both rock climbing and bouldering routes.
  • Extensive activity space that includes four multipurpose rooms, squash, racquetball and group exercise with stunning views of the surrounding campus.
  • Unique elements including a golf simulation room, spin studio, and spaces for Mind/Body and TRX that expand campus recreation offerings in the building.
  • Locker rooms, equipment storage space, club sport areas and an administration suite along with other support areas.

The entire project is orchestrated around guiding principles that focus on respect for the campus master plan, reinforcement of the surrounding landscape and open spaces, existing building design guidelines, and a commitment to wellness.

Boston College Senior Vice President for University Advancement Jim Husson expressed the building has already reshaped the look and feel of our campus and begun to redefine the culture of fitness and recreation for our institution.

Exterior and Interior Design

The Connell Recreation Center is a contextual architectural solution that uses the past to inform its future. Balancing Boston Colleges English Collegiate Gothic Style with a future-focused program creates a truly one-of-a-kind destination that is appropriate for the campus and fuels exciting opportunities for the future.

The design team led the college through a careful three-step process to create this building including:

Deep research around historical, symbolic, cultural and conceptual elements that capture Boston Colleges storied past. The team documented how existing building materials such as brick, granite, cast stone, glass and slate tile were used on campus to articulate building form.

Creating visual and photographic documentation of the existing English Collegiate Gothic architecture, including existing rhythm, proportion, physical elements, material qualities, and overall character of the vernacular. Each building type on BC’s campus has a unique set of programmatic spaces that contribute to the physical placement and arrangement of building elements that include gable end structures, buttresses, detailed eaves, pitched roofs, and punched windows in brick and stone.

The team also created a series of diagrams and studies to apply the existing context to the massing and form of the new recreation center. By its nature, recreation centers require a taller floor-to-floor and have much larger spaces than a typical English Collegiate Gothic building. Therefore, careful attention to detail was required to ensure the existing campus building material palette, forms and proportions could be applied effectively to the new building.

While the resulting Recreation Center has a large footprint and multiple stacked large volume spaces, creative massing, proportions and articulation help the building break down visually and experientially to fit the surrounding campus. The base of the building is primarily precast concrete that allows that building to sit firmly on the site. The upper floors are largely brick with large punched opening windows that are connected between floor levels. Between these large windows, buttresses of brick and cast stone were used to anchor the four story building, and in many cases, allowed the interior columns to have much less impact on interior spaces.

Gable ends are used on all primary facade corners to create visual interest and serve as focal points for campus wayfinding. The windows welcome extensive daylight into the building, providing natural light deep into the activity spaces. A significant gable end structure is also used at the primary entry to create a focal point to lower campus and define an internal spine on the interior of the building. A large two-story gothic arch made of cast stone and glazing creates a portal entry to the internal spine space. From the second story window in the multipurpose space, picturesque views of the distant historic Gasson Hall on upper campus are created.

The interior design is also careful to reduce intimidation and promote inclusivity. In making the insides of the center visible from the outside and appropriate visual connections inside, students of all fitness levels and interests are inherently more encouraged to use the building. A central spine fuels circulation and wayfinding in the building. This spine is the primary circulation space for the building, offering opportunities for students to gather and interact outside of the activity spaces. A two-story space that connects the entry level with the second level offers views in the multipurpose activity court and aquatic center. A grand stair is also located in the spine and connects all four levels of the recreation center and promotes a healthy interaction with the building and fellow students, faculty and staff.

The architects helped us with the idea of inclusivity a great deal, said a key leader for the project in a preview article on the facility. Some of it dealt with proportion, because it is a building with large volumes, and it’s also in how we’ve stacked and organized program spaces in the building that achieve our goals of transparency and welcoming.


The Connell Recreation Center sits on the institutions lower campus and seizes a tremendous opportunity for Boston College to unify the entire campus from the Upper and Middle Campuses to the west and the Brighton Campus to the northeast.

Specifically, the recreation center is located along St. Thomas More Road - an ideal location within the Lower Campus to maximize visibility, student access, control and long-term flexibility. The recreation center is now the anchor to lower campus and has become the catalyst for new outdoor spaces that support student life activities. New student pathways and undergraduate housing will be located adjacent to the new recreation center to provide immediate access for students and more unity across the Lower Campus.

The design team faced multiple considerations with the project site including residential buildings to the North, Pine Tree Preserve Conservation land to the south and major utility zones to the East. The geometry of the building responds to these extraordinarily tight site conditions with a conscientious shift in the building geometry to meet the program needs within the available footprint.

Not only is the allowable buildable area limited, the site had vertical challenges as well with the new facility largely built on landfill from the adjacent reservoir and height restrictions by local zoning requirements. The Connell Center accounts for all of this while strengthening the Lower Campus.

The building truly stands as a new beacon for this portion of campus and the Boston College community. The colleges Campus Recreation Director Rebecca Cegledy has noted, this facility brings a new vibrancy to the part of lower campus it calls home.


The cost of the Connell Recreation Center is confidential. However, Boston College has disclosed it was funded largely through a $50 million leadership gift from Margot Connell, a trustee associate with deep ties to the institution. At the time of the building dedication, Ms. Connell shared, I know how important a place to gather and play can be. A place that offers something for everyone. A place where all students could come to work out, exercise and participate in all kinds of athletic activities.

Floor Plans