Empty gym annex pool gets repurposed as design studio



Students study in the newly renovated VCD wing on the MAC Annex Tuesday Feb. 10, 2014. The entire section used to be a pool, with the diving board loacted in the next door classroom.

Justin Sheil

The space formerly housing the 10,000-square-foot pool in Kent State’s Gym Annex has been repurposed as studio space for the School of Visual Communication Design.

The $2.3 million renovation project transformed the pool that had been empty for more than 10 years into much-needed space for the school. The area is now home to four classrooms, a student lounge and a locker area.

Because of upcoming construction projects and plans to shift the location of programs on campus, these Gym Annex classrooms are only transitional spaces.

AnnMarie LeBlanc, director of the School of Visual Communication Design, said the temporary studios will provide an opportunity to determine what features future VCD classrooms will possess.  

“In many ways, I see it as sort of a test-run for what we might want to do in the future,” LeBlanc said.

The tentative plan is for the school to move into Taylor Hall alongside the School of Communication Studies once construction is complete on the upcoming College of Architecture and Environmental Design facility. CAED will vacate its current home in Taylor Hall, and VCD will move in once the new CAED facility is constructed. With current projections having the new CAED facility completed in 2016, VCD will spend approximately three years in these Gym Annex classrooms.

The School of Visual Communication Design is not  housed under one roof currently. The school’s advising, administrative and faculty offices are located in the Art Building, along with a few classrooms. Other VCD classroom spaces can be found in Bowman Hall as well.

“I’m fond of the opportunity to make a home and present a very strong program in a facility that looks like a design program lives here,” LeBlanc said.

The studio space’s former life as a pool provides high ceilings and exposed ventilation ducts that enable the space to have a sense of openness found in professional design studios.

“This feels like a design studio, like something you would see in Cleveland, Chicago or New York,” LeBlanc said.

However, the openness can be a little too open at times. The walls between the classrooms do not reach the full height of the high ceilings, providing little protection from noise in adjacent classrooms.

Building four design studios from a former pool’s skeleton did not come without some challenges. The slopes of the pool proved to be different than planners had anticipated.

“We thought it was more level than it really was,” said Michael Bruder, executive director of facilities, planning and design.

Transforming the pool’s 14-foot deep end into space for facility maintenance was another interesting challenge, Bruder said.

Dramatically shifting the space’s intended use has provided VCD students with a unique learning environment.

“The transformation is rather remarkable,” LeBlanc said. “To think that there’s another whole world underneath us is pretty amazing.”

Justin Sheil is the architecture and buildings and grounds reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].