Filed Under Places

The RAC

Formerly, the P.E. Building

The state-of-the-art Recreation and Athletic Conference is a modern fitness facility with many amenities. It began serving the Mason community as the Physical Education Building over fifty years ago.

The Recreation and Athletic Complex (RAC) is home to three intercollegiate sports at Mason (wrestling, volleyball, and tennis) and plays a key part in Mason Recreation’s programming. At over 120,000 square feet the RAC features racquetball and squash courts, a two-story fitness center, and two smaller gyms. It is also host to the ROTC offices, and offices and classroom space for Mason’s School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism. While the RAC’s current modern look and amenities are due to a major renovation that took place between 2007 and 2009, the original building was completed in July of 1972.

George Mason College began planning for its Physical Education Center in 1968. Mason had just graduated its first class as a four-year college and was working toward becoming an independent university soon with an enrollment of over 15,000 by the mid-1980s. Virginia state-supported college programs at that time required all students to complete two years of physical education. Mason did not have the facilities to provide for an enrollment that was doubling every year in the late 1960s. Physical Education classes had to be held at Mason’s North Campus, 10 minutes away on Lee Highway. Its Basketball team had to play home games at W.T. Woodson High School over on Main Street in Fairfax. And at that time, it did not have a venue that could seat more than three hundred.

Planners stressed that a building for providing a space for physical education and other physical activities would surely have multiple uses such as: commencement exercises, musical events, dramatic performances, convocations, intercollegiate athletic events, large social events, and other uses for the local community, as well. With these uses in mind, the college successfully petitioned the Commonwealth to fund its Physical Education Center in 1969.

Groundbreaking and construction began in 1970 and was completed in July 1972 shortly after Hurricane Agnes passed through the northern Virginia area, dumping several inches of rain, and causing flood damage to the building’s floors. Cleanup crews were quickly brought in to prepare the building for immediate occupancy.

The new Physical Education Center or as Mason locals called it, “the PE Building”, was put to use immediately that fall. Faculty and staff moved into their new offices just ahead of the fall semester. Physical Education Classes (Phys Ed 123 and 133) for the Second Term of the Summer Session (July 18-August 17) were held in the building. On December 6, Governor A. Linwood Holton conducted his regional Governor’s Conference in the basketball gym. Nearly one-thousand Northern Virginia residents, business leaders, and constituents packed the bleachers for an opportunity to share their thoughts with the Governor. Athletes on the basketball, wrestling, and gymnastics teams began training and competing against their conference rivals on their new home turf, and Spring Commencement for 1973 was held there, as well.

Perhaps the most interesting and bizarre happening at the PE Building took place two days after the Governor’s Conference. On December 8, the rock band Mountain, then a major national act, was scheduled to play a show the PE Building. Oddly, an alumni dinner was taking place just above the gym on an upper floor. Rowdy behavior by gatecrashers trying to get into the sold out show prompted University President, Vergil Dykstra to come downstairs to assess the situation. Several windows in the building were smashed by the unruly visitors, and the doors into the gym were temporarily chained shut to prevent a stampede into the facility. Dr. Dykstra helped the situation by blocking a doorway himself until order could be restored.

In the mid-2000s, after over 30 years of continuous service, the venerable PE Building was due for a refresh. A multilevel addition was built, creating an additional two-story venue for wrestling and volleyball, as well as other multiuse rooms. Existing interior spaces were reorganized to maximize space. And a new, more modern exterior completed the upgrades. Overall, the building gained 67,000 additional usable square feet and received a new name, the Recreation and Athletic Complex.

Images

Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from  southeast
Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from southeast Photograph of the front entrance to the Recreation and Athletics Complex Source: SCRC Staff photographs Creator: SCRC Staff Date: February 2, 2023
George Mason College Physical Education Complex
George Mason College Physical Education Complex Architectural drawing of the Physical Education Complex Source: George Mason University Facilities records, #R0017, Box 6 Creator: George Mason University Facilities Date: 1971
Physical Education Building, view from the northeast
Physical Education Building, view from the northeast Photograph of the front entrance of the Physical Education Building Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120, Box 39, Folder 2 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: 1980s
Physical Education Building, view from the southeast
Physical Education Building, view from the southeast Photograph of the front entrance to the Physical Education Building Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135, Box 9, Folder 63 Creator: Kerry Miller Date: November 21, 1974
George Mason University Alumni enjoy a dinner party in the PE Building
George Mason University Alumni enjoy a dinner party in the PE Building George Mason University alumni attend a party on the upper level of the PE Building on December 8, 1973. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135, Box 7, P 49, Frame 8 Creator: Kerry Miller Date: December 8, 1973
Dr. Vergil H. Dykstra at the gymnasium door of the PE Building
Dr. Vergil H. Dykstra at the gymnasium door of the PE Building George Mason University president, Vergil H. Dykstra stands guard at the door to the gymnasium while the rock band Mountain plays inside, Source: George Mason University Broadside newspaper photograph collection, #R0135, Box 7, Page 49, frame 14 Creator: Kerry Miller Date: January 8, 1973
Mountain plays a concert at the PE Building at George Mason University
Mountain plays a concert at the PE Building at George Mason University Mountain featuring (left to right) Corky Laing, Felix Pappalardi, and Leslie West play the Gymnasium of the PE Building at George Mason University. Source: George Mason University Broadside newspaper photograph collection, #R0135, Box 7, Page 49, frame 28 Creator: Kerry Miller Date: December 8, 1973
Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from the east
Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from the east Photograph of the Recreation and Athletics Complex Source: George Mason University Creative Services Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: November 16, 2015
Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from the northeast
Recreation and Athletics Complex, view from the northeast Photograph of the front entrance to the Recreation and Athletics Complex Source: SCRC Staff photographs Creator: SCRC Staff Date: February 2, 2023

Location

Metadata

George Mason University Past and Present Team, “The RAC,” The Mason Experience: Past and Present, accessed March 2, 2024, https://pastandpresent.gmu.edu/items/show/8.