Skip to Main Content

Physical Education Complex (RG 135)

This image is color drawing/ aerial view of Springfield College's Physical Education (PE) Complex. The entire complex is shown including the walkway to Linkletter Natatorium and the new tennis courts.  The drawing was most likely created by the architectural firm of Alfred P. Casella, the architects of the projects.

Physical Education Complex

The Physical Education Complex at Springfield College was built to replace the Memorial Field House, which was demolished in May, 1979. Originally, a 50,000 square-foot addition was going to be built onto the Memorial Field House. However, there were “serious structural deficiencies” with the building and it was closed on May 10, 1979. The college immediately established a Task Force, and within five months the plans for a new facility were finalized. The general contract was awarded on January 16, 1980. The architect of the new building was Alfred P. Casella of Agawam, Massachusetts and the general contractor was D.A. Sullivan Sons of Northampton, Massachusetts.

On February 11, 1980, the Groundbreaking of the Physical Education (PE) Complex took place. During the Groundbreaking ceremony, five members of the Springfield College track team participated in a relay race from City Hall to the campus construction site, each running a half-mile and literally “racing against time” to deliver the baton which contained the building permit for the college’s new $5.3 million Physical Education Complex. The Dedication Ceremony took place the following year, on October 30, 1981 and was the feature of the annual fall Homecoming festivities at Springfield College. More than 2,200 people attended the event. The dedication consisted of the “Springfield Showcase,” in which 120 students including gymnasts, dancers, and musicians, performed in Blake Arena.

At the time, the facility was the largest construction project in the college’s history. The PE Complex consisted of four distinct facilities; the Art Linkletter Natatorium, Blake Arena, the Winston Paul Academic Center including two teaching gymnasiums (Dana Gymnasium and Kresge Gymnasium), a wrestling room (Douglas Parker Wrestling Room), and eight handball/ racquetball courts), and the Keith Locker and Training Facility. The Art Linkletter Natatorium, which originally opened in 1967, was connected to the other structures by a 95-foot “skywalk.” The total combined space of the PE Complex was 143,000 square feet. The $5.3 million building was funded by the Capital Campaign headed by Art Linkletter. Major contributors were S. Prestley Blake, co-founder of Friendly Ice Cream Corporation ($500,000), Mr. Winston Paul, a long-time Trustee and National YMCA leader ($1 million), the Insurance Company of North America ($1 million), and The Dana Foundation of Greenwich Conn. ($500,000). The PE Complex was primarily an educational facility where students took classes in Physical Education, Sports Medicine, and Health Fitness in order to prepare them for “human helping professions,” such as YMCA executives, athletic trainers, and coaches.

The main complex featured two separate, yet interrelated structures: the massive three-story dome, better known as Blake Arena, is 180 feet in diameter and 44 feet above the playing surface, and the more conventional Winston Paul Academic 12,000 square foot gymnasia facility. Blake Arena was constructed with two regulation-sized basketball courts and roll-out bleachers that seated more than 2,000 spectators. It is the main level of the three-leveled domed center. It serves as the main basketball and volleyball court at Springfield College and is also used for gymnastics, wrestling, classes, lectures, shows, and other activities. The lower level contains the equipment room, several classrooms, as well as locker rooms and showers for the complex. It also used to house the faculty offices, though most of these have been moved to the main level, and a weight room, which is now part of the Wellness Center that was constructed next to the PE Complex and opened in September 2008. Above the main level/ basketball court is a mezzanine with a three-lane jogging track. Ten laps around the track equal a mile.

As mentioned above, the new Wellness and Recreation Complex was opened in 2008 and now encompasses the PE Complex. The Wellness and Recreation Complex includes the Wellness Center, Field House, Athletic Training/ Exercise Science facility (over 160,560 square feet of instructional, athletic, and recreational space) adjoining the Physical Education Complex and the Art Linkletter Natatorium. The Art Linkletter Natatorium, with a graceful steel arch roof and an Olympic-sized pool, had been a part of the college since its official dedication on October 21, 1967. At the time of its construction, the new building was located right next to the Memorial Field House. Today, it is incorporated into the physical structure of the Wellness and Recreation Complex.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Physical Education Complex Records collection documents the planning, construction and use of the Physical Education Complex at Springfield College. Included in the collection are reports, memos, correspondence, notes, newspaper articles, pamphlets, photographs, slides, audio tapes and video footage. Of particular importance are documents and photographs on the capitol campaign that gathered the funds for the construction of the Physical Education Complex, including the $500,000 Prestley Blake Challenge Grant and the $500,000 Charles A. Dana Foundation Challenge Grant; multimedia documents on the dedication ceremonies, both at the original opening of the complex and later at naming ceremonies for Naismith Court in Blake Arena and the Douglas Parker Wrestling room; and photographs from the construction of the PE Complex, in particular Blake Arena, and of the exterior and interior of the complex.

Also of importance are documents and reports on the planning of the Physical Education Complex held in Series 2. The documents stretch all the way back to 1965 and go through the final plans developed in 1979. These documents include reports and meeting minutes drawn up by the many different planning or task force committees and plans submitted by architects.