Two in One

Veteran sports columnist Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and ESPN dubbed it “the best collegiate sports facility in New England.” As such, the TD Bank Sports Center stands atop Quinnipiac University’s newly developed York Hill Campus and provides not one, but two state-of-the-art venues in which to play and watch elite collegiate athletics.

Quinnipiac University is a private, coeducational university with 5,900 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. Consistently ranked among the best universities by U.S. News & World Report, Quinnipiac is located in the heart of New England, about 90 minutes from New York City and two hours from Boston.

The TD Bank Sports Center, with twin NCAA Division I hockey and basketball arenas for men’s and women’s teams, was the first structure to be built on the entirely new 240-acre campus carved out of a rocky hilltop in Hamden, CT. It was the seminal building for all the rest that were to follow, including a residence hall and townhouses for 2,000 students; an 85,000-sq.-ft. student center; a five-tier parking garage, and a sociable “wind terrace” with 25 vertical-axis turbines generating electricity as students walked by underneath.

Beginning a New Campus
Centerbrook Architects and Planners designed the Sports Center, as well as the entire 250-acre York Hill Campus. The twin arenas of the new Sports Center house a hockey rink with 3,286 seats and a basketball arena with 3,570 seats. Both arenas offer completely unobstructed sight lines, thanks to three-dimensional tubular roof trusses with 164-ft. clear spans. The trusses support a gently curving roof that lowers the ceiling inside, affording both arenas an intimacy that energizes the spectator experience. The trusses are painted “Quinnipiac Gold” and lend a visual interest to the otherwise large and unadorned interior spaces, while providing armatures for lighting, sound equipment, scoreboards, and banners.

Early in the planning stages, there was discussion about whether two arenas were better than one. The construction costs associated with building a single ice arena with an overlay basketball floor, along with the associated operating and staff expenses, was an important driver in the selection of the two-arena scheme. Ultimately, the difficulty of a single venue accommodating the practice and game schedules for four varsity teams was decisive.

The separate, dedicated venues were also seen as a distinct recruitment tool for top athletes and, indeed, a number of the University’s teams have been ranked nationally in recent years. But beyond wins and losses, Quinnipiac University has risen to prominence nationally, in no small part, because of the excellence and allure of its three campuses.

So among its myriad requirements, the Sports Center needed to be a prime attraction for the University while it helped to make the fledgling York Hill Campus a sought-after place in which to live, where the residents could walk from their rooms to watch their varsity teams compete against rivals such as Yale and Harvard. While it needed to establish a prominent architectural presence, the Center also had to fit into the campus community of buildings without being seen as either oversized or more important.

Connected to the Earth
The architect nestled the 185,000-sq.-ft. structure into the side of the hill, thus reducing its perceived mass while enlisting the earth to reduce its heating and cooling requirements. The Center is also sited to provide spectacular views — from its lobby and upper floor University Club — of the New Haven skyline and Long Island Sound, some eight miles due south. Turning the steep hillside into an asset, the design presents an appealing human scale to the spectators who enter the facility.

The front of the structure, facing north, with its two wings and low slung, curving roofs, forms an enclave that welcomes visitors inside. From the outside, the two curved roofs create a sense that the building is in flight. Lowering the northern eaves serves to reduce the apparent mass of the facility as well. Because the building’s relationship to the view of New Haven and beyond was critical, we have fans entering from the north into a lobby that opens to that remarkable view.

The two arenas sweep out from each other on either side of the entry courtyard. Large glass walls at the ends of each “wing” face the courtyard and offer an energizing preview of the excitement inside to those arriving for a game. A central entrance lobby on the concourse level provides equal and easy access to both arenas. The mezzanine level, located above the concourse, accommodates the University Club, where a lounge, equipped with full dining facilities and VIP seats, is split to overlook both arenas. An outdoor deck captures an unobstructed view south to New Haven. At the lowest level, beneath the seats, are the locker rooms, training rooms, team rooms, and other support facilities. At this level, the view to New Haven is found in the fitness room, which arcs from east to west.

Staying on Schedule and Budget
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the project was to design and build it in two years, an ambitious construction schedule necessitated by the school’s commitment to its new hockey conference, the prestigious Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, as well as the desire to stay on budget. And because of the other ongoing construction activities on the site, nearly all of the cast-in-place concrete foundation walls and steel erection was performed within the building footprint.

Centerbrook and Dimeo Construction, which is headquartered in Providence, RI, worked closely with University officials to devise and execute a precise construction sequencing plan that enabled the building to meet its schedule. Construction of each wing began at the building’s center hub and advanced each arena as separate buildings. This allowed the hockey wing to be completed prior to the basketball wing in order to meet the ECAC opening game schedule. The use of exterior tilt-up, precast, insulated concrete wall panels, while problematic architecturally, did contribute to an early close-in of the building, which, in turn, allowed interior concrete footings, interior steel erection, precast stadium seating, and the complicated ice rink slab all to proceed during winter months.

Opening in 2007, the TD Bank Sports Center was well received on campus and beyond. Only recently, Bob Ryan, sportswriter for the Boston Globe, trekked throughout New England searching for the best collegiate basketball arena. In his opinion Quinnipiac won hands down, beating out such well-known icons as Gampel Pavilion at the University of Connecticut. Ryan wrote, “We have a clear winner. It sits on a hill in Hamden, Connecticut. On either side you’ll find theater seats, perfectly pitched in an oval to enjoy the action. And you ought to see the locker rooms, meeting facilities, and other stuff, for both men and women. There’s none better in New England.” 

Jefferson B. Riley, a partner in Centerbrook Architects of Connecticut, led the firm’s design team.

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