Patricia & Merrill Shanks Health & Wellness Center

Oberlin College – Oberlin, Ohio

Project Background

Built in 1971, the Jesse Philips Education Center included a six-lane T-shaped indoor pool and a fitness equipment area located in a corridor. To meet the modern needs of the campus community, the pool was replaced with the new eight-lane Robert Carr Pool (named for Oberlin’s ninth president), and the Patricia & Merrill Shanks Health and Wellness Center was added to the facility. The Shanks Center includes a fitness center, multi-purpose room, spinning room, wellness room, lounge, staff offices, and a new entry for the entire Philips Center. The Carr Pool includes a dry land training area, spa, and wet classroom to enhance the various uses of the natatorium.

Project Deliverables

Because the demolition of the original pool and construction of the new pool would wipe out the mechanical and electrical services to the entire Philips Center, a phased approach was required.

During design, a realistic phasing plan had to be developed that identified work that had to be accomplished before the existing services were disconnected so the facility could continue to operate. Additionally, the duration of the phases had to accommodate the availability of certain building functions with the semester schedules. Due to the short time available for the first phase (service relocations), the bare minimum amount of work was included. This required the design team to develop a very good understanding of the existing facility’s utilities (heating, cooling, plumbing, power, telecommunications, and fire alarm) and address the various pieces that were needed to keep the facility running normally.

The existing mechanical and electrical service areas would be eliminated under any plan that accommodated the new pool layout. Our team noticed numerous existing racquetball courts as the sport was big in the 60s and 70s. Many of these courts were being used for storage, so we suggested the athletics and physical education leadership consider and forecast how many courts were required for the future. With this consideration, we were able to free up enough courts and space to create new mechanical/electrical spaces. Because the courts were two-story high spaces, we were able to include a mezzanine in one area and have space for large ducts in another, allowing the project to proceed without building an addition for the new services. This kept the project moving by avoiding a delay for additional fundraising. Phase 1 of the project involved the conversion of several of these existing and unused racquetball courts to a mechanical and electrical room while new services were rerouted around the footprint of the Shanks Center.

Once the new services were active, Phase 2 was able to commence with the demolition and construction of the natatorium and the wellness addition. In preparation for the second phase, an extensive energy and life cycle cost analysis was performed of the heating system for the facility. This led to a decision to abandon the steam service from the campus central steam plant and install high-efficiency gas boilers in the Philips Center. It was determined that the losses in the existing piping between the plant and this facility outweighed the efficiencies and economies of the central steam plant. Replacement of the existing steam piping was determined impractical for the project.

The new services included capacity for the modernization of the original Philips Center in the future. This included air conditioning as well as audio/visual and sound systems design. We provided design and engineering for local and distributed video and audio systems throughout the fitness areas. This included dedicated audio/visual systems to serve the multi-purpose/spinning classroom, wet classroom, and wellness space, along with public address and performance pool sound systems to serve the university athletics program.

In addition, a pan-tilt-zoom camera system was installed for the Carr Pool for instructional purposes for the diving team on the one- and three-meter diving boards. This two-camera system allows the diver to record their dives and replay the footage instantaneously for advanced critique. The intricate capture of their dive allows them to hone in on the most minute detail so they can perfect their performance.

Due to the height of the ceilings, LED fixtures were chosen because of their longevity, maintainability, and high visibility. However, LED fixtures do not normally function at their best in hot environments and often emit more glare, which is not desired for this type of facility. To combat these issues, our lighting design team worked closely with the lighting manufacturer to design a special LED fixture that would thrive in the hot environment while preserving its maintainability. The fixtures were adapted to tailor-fit the design of this new facility and are projected to last up to 60,000 hours.

Architect Of Record

Hastings & Chivetta Architects

Construction Cost




Market Sector

College & University

Year Completed




Our Services
McClure Mechanical services
McClure Electrical services
McClure Plumbing services
McClure Fire Safety services
McClure Lighting services
McClure Audio Visual services

Keith Esarey, P.E.