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.