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The old Roche Sports Complex
Courtesy | Hillsdale College

Many of us have walked through the Roche Sports Complex without giving it much con­sid­er­ation. After all, why would you? The mono­lithic wall of exterior brick, an interior sky of ceiling tiles, and the flu­o­rescent suns don’t offer us much of any­thing worth caring about. This current iter­ation, however, is not how the Sports Complex always looked. 

The building we know as the Splex was com­pleted in 1927 after two years of con­struction, replacing the old wooden gym­nasium that once sat on the quad. As it stood then until the late 1980s, stu­dents would enter through a grand arched door into an open-aired space sur­rounded by tow­ering windows with sky­lights overhead. 

The same space where we now have bas­ketball games and mock rock was once bathed in natural light. The exterior windows were arched, and the glass panels reflected the cur­vature in their panes. The brickwork was modest, yet detailed, with simple crown moldings and lime­stone accents between the columns of the windows. 

The entire building was con­structed with its purpose in mind, to create a space that someone would feel good exer­cising in. The question we must answer now is, what happened? 

After many years of harsh Michigan winters, the Roche admin­is­tration decided that the Splex could use a ren­o­vation. Instead of repairing the gym to its original state, or merely upgrading its amenities, they decided to essen­tially con­struct a new building inside the original. 

First, they covered every single window with a thin brick veneer. Then, the sky­lights were roofed over, a bright white drop ceiling was installed on the impressive iron beams, and the interior walls were covered by cinder-block. 

Perhaps the saddest day for our Splex was the renovation’s final step, the removal of the grand arched entrance that decades of stu­dents had passed under. What was left is what we see today: A gym full of function but no form. 

No longer does our grand building showcase any beauty, but instead it offersa false brick face that can only be com­pared to the archi­tecture of the Bru­talists. What are we to do now?

 Let’s con­sider another building on campus to inform how we should treat the Splex. There was once a classroom building named Kresge that sat behind Central Hall. The archi­tecture of this building was so anti­thetical to the values of our college that Dr. Arnn had it demol­ished soon after becoming president. 

Lane and Kendall were con­structed to replace Kresge, and with the form and function of those spaces in mind, con­sider this: Lane and Kendall are busy at nearly all times of day, while Dow Math, the ugliest building on campus, is always nearly abandoned. 

People rec­ognize that our buildings are physical man­i­fes­ta­tions of our values and sub­con­sciously adjust their behavior in how they use our spaces. How does the current archi­tecture of the Splex affect how we engage with it? 

Thank­fully it is not too late to right the wrongs made by the pre­vious gen­er­ation. After some inves­ti­gation, I have found that the original archi­tecture of the Splex, including the windows, are still intact, just hidden. 

Maybe it is time to give our ath­letes a space worth caring about, a space that reflects the mission of the college, and brings our ath­letics fully into the fold of our liberal arts tra­dition. It’s time we pull off the curtain of the brick veneer and let the sun shine on our physical edu­cation once again.