Project category: Conversion (completed August 2004)

Chief administrator: Christy Stephenson, CEO, (609) 584-6404

Firm: HLM Design - Heery International, Inc., (215) 564-9977

Design team: Brad Earl, AIA, Principal-in-Charge; Philip Buckley, AIA, Project Manager; Paula Miller, ASID, Senior Interior Designer; Richard Piecara, Mechanical Engineering Design; James Peterkin, PE, Life Safety Engineer; Rhonda Forney, Electrical Designer

Photography: Steve Hornaday, HLM Design - Heery International, Inc.

Total building area (sq. ft.): 87,000

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $106

Total construction cost (excluding land): $9,200,000

What sets the RWJ Hamilton Center for Health & Wellness apart from other health clubs is the fact that it's owned by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton, New Jersey. Hospital CEO Christy Stephenson believed its creation would help the hospital fulfill its mission of reaching out to the community.

Initially, the hospital considered building a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility on its campus. A feasibility study showed that 40,000 square feet wasn't nearly enough to house the programs and services the hospital desired. A new facility would cost more, take longer to build, and require the use of valuable campus property needed for future expansion.

The decision was made to retrofit a large, abandoned retail facility in an underused 1970s strip mall. The 87,000-sq.-ft. building is essentially two facilities in one. Not only does the wellness center house the hospital's rehabilitation department, but it also houses a health club with top-notch equipment, a conference center, a medical reference library, a healthy-cooking kitchen, and more.

With the exception of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation treatment area, rehab patients are integrated with wellness center members. Both groups enter the facility through the same contemporarily designed entrance and sign in at the sweeping, crescent-shaped reception desk, which mirrors the winged architectural design element above.

The center's therapy pool is adjacent to the recreational lap pool. Skylights and punched windows allow ample light to flow, highlighting the circular architectural element that extends from the ceiling, this one echoing the shape of the hot tub below.

Rehab patients and wellness center members share ample weight training, resistance, and cardiovascular equipment. Their integration with fitness members allows rehab patients to discover that disability can lead to possibility. A high percentage of rehab patients have signed up for fitness club membership after completing treatment.

Retrofitting the “big box” rather than building from the ground up afforded an opportunity to provide high ceilings and broad column bays, lending a sense of spaciousness. Architectural form, color, shadow, materials, and finishes are integral components of the center's inviting design. A quiet gathering area, complete with healing fountain, serves as both a contemplative center for members and as the gateway to the facility's medical resource library, demonstration kitchen, conference center, and teaching facilities. The center also features a comfortable healthy-lifestyle café, a childcare center, a day spa, and a spa/fitness center retail shop.