Ralph S. O’Connor Center for Recreation and Well-Being
Student experience

Johns Hopkins reimagines rec center with $27M expansion

Renovation of the O'Connor Center for Recreation and Well-Being, which first opened in 2002, includes new spaces for strength and cardio workouts, group activities, and student well-being; the project is expected to be completed by August 2021

The Ralph S. O'Connor Center for Recreation and Well-Being on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus will get a major makeover as work begins this month on a $27 million project that will double the center's space for strength and cardio training and increase opportunities for student group activities. Renamed to include "well-being," the center will add a café and socialization space as well as a variety of programs focused on student wellness.

Construction will begin in a few weeks on a dynamic, three-story, L-shaped addition along the southeast side of the building overlooking the Bufano Sculpture Garden and the Undergraduate Teaching Labs, giving users views to the exterior environment while allowing those outside to see into the building's vibrant, activated spaces. Exterior site improvements include an outdoor programming plaza, improved lighting, landscaping, and a seating area. Interior renovations will require temporary relocation of cardio and weight equipment, but the center will remain open during construction, which is expected to be completed in August 2021.

The expansion is funded in part by a generous gift from entrepreneur and philanthropist Ralph O'Connor, a Hopkins alum, former trustee, and longtime supporter of student life at his alma mater. O'Connor, who died in December 2018, had pledged his support of this renovation before his death and previously gave the lead gift for the recreation center that bears his name and opened in 2002.

"The comprehensive expansion and renovation of the Ralph S. O'Connor Center is another step forward in building a first-class student experience at Johns Hopkins," said Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan. "The evolution of the building to better serve the recreational needs of our students while also enhancing well-being creates yet another campus asset. The Ralph S. O'Connor Center, coupled with the creation of the Hopkins Student Center, builds a powerful combination of opportunities for our students to enhance their extracurricular experiences and build a stronger Hopkins community."

Bill Harrington, senior associate athletic director and director of recreation and facilities, said the expansion will alleviate crowding and make room for additional machines.

The first floor will feature renovated and expanded rooms for weightlifting and heavy weights. The cardio space will run the length of the second-floor addition, with machines looking out over the sculpture garden. The third floor will feature a combination strength and cardio room. In total, the project will add 15,000 square feet of area in the rec center; an additional 15,000 square feet will be renovated.

"The comprehensive expansion and renovation of the Ralph S. O'Connor Center is another step forward in building a first-class student experience at Johns Hopkins."
Alanna Shanahan
Vice Provost for Student Affairs

The new space will also include expanded group exercise areas, with dividers replacing the shared partition walls, allowing classes to run side by side simultaneously without excess noise. The change means the university can offer more group exercise classes, including the popular F45 classes, which will double in number.

When it is completed, the addition and modernized facade will serve as the new face of the center, with an entrance leading directly to the lobby and new Shake Smart café. A new ground level entrance will replace the current stairs and ramp, improving access. The floor-to-ceiling glass facade will allow more natural light into the facility.

Social spaces, programming opportunities, and even furniture choices in the renovated center have been designed to encourage students to engage and foster a community of care. Program offerings will include a new mindfulness/meditation curriculum, and the expansion will also allow for the offices of the Center for Health and Well-Being to be integrated with the Recreation staff to foster greater collaboration.

Impact from construction is expected to be minimal, Harrington said. The center will continue to offer all intramural sports and group activities, though several will be relocated to the ROTC drill hall and auxiliary gym while cardio and weightlifting machines are moved onto one of the basketball courts. The track surrounding the gym will also be temporarily narrowed to make room for additional treadmills. Squash will be taken offline during construction, and one racquetball court will remain open to students. Large student events such as the career fair, Diwali, concerts, and convocation will continue to be held in the center.

"I think students are going to be very happy with where we end up," Harrington said.

Correction: The date of Ralph O'Connor's death was misstated in an earlier version of this article. The Hub regrets the error.