Cost: $1.25 million
Finch Fieldhouse (and the adjoining athletic complex) was one of the first major construction projects undertaken by Central during the construction boom following the Second World War. As the number of students on campus swelled in the late 1940s, the need for a larger and more fully equipped athletic facility became apparent. In early 1944, President Anspach announced plans for the future planning and construction of a new gymnasium and field house. At a cost of over one million dollars, the new field house and gymnasium complex would have to wait until 1949 for final approval of funding and plans.
Designed by Roger Allen of Grand Rapids, the building's construction contract was awarded to the Storm Construction Company, also of Grand Rapids. The Hertel Company was responsible for installation of the plumbing and electrical work was completed by the Kirkhoff Company. The building was planned for the east side of Franklin Street north of Preston, and a number of existing homes were moved in preparation for the construction. Among the homes that were moved were several belonging to Central faculty, one of which became the future practice house for the Department of Home Economics.
The total cost for the entire project was over one million dollars and construction began in early 1950. At an official ceremony on March 16, 1950, President Anspach helped lay the cornerstone of the new building, which contained a copper box with information about Central and the City of Mt. Pleasant at the time of construction. The new Health and Physical Education Building was completed by the fall of 1951. University and state officials dedicated the new building, as well as the newly completed Wightman Hall, in October 1951. At the dedication ceremony, Michigan Senator Frank Heath congratulated Central for coming in under budget on the project. The principal architect, Roger Allen, also designed many buildings on campus and made a speech at the dedication ceremony, in which he stated that the gym and field house was his favorite project.
The largest building on campus at the time of its opening, the Health and Physical Education Building was one of the best equipped athletic facilities in the state. The building itself was 340 feet long by 288 feet wide. The field house alone was 263 feet by 138 feet with room for 4,000 seats. The project included the construction of parking facilities on the north and east sides of the building and the placement of nine concrete tennis courts to the south of the building; an area that is now a commuter parking lot.
The facilities within were also impressive. The complex featured a basketball court which was lit by floodlights and had permanent seating and a press box. In the opposite wing was a smaller gymnasium complex that was four times the size of the previous gym and would be used for athletic instruction. Boxing and wrestling rooms were located in the basement. The building also housed a 75 x 30 ft. pool that had a maximum depth of 15 feet and seating for 350 spectators. By early October 1951, the basketball team was practicing on its new court. The basketball team played the official dedication game on December 1, 1951, in which it upset the University of Michigan.
The building was renamed the Ronald W. Finch Health and Physical Education Building on October 20, 1962 at a ceremony that featured speeches from several University officials and the unveiling of the identifying letters on the building. Ronald W. Finch was the head of the Physical Education department from 1942 to 1959. He was born on October 19, 1902 in Howard City. He graduated from Rockford High School. Before coming to Central as a faculty member, he taught high school for twelve years, teaching in Clare, Lowell, St. Joseph, and Saginaw. He received his Bachelor of Science from Central in 1932 and his Master of Arts from Columbia in 1941. Finch joined the Central faculty in 1937. He was the head track and football coach until 1946. He became the first dean of the college of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation when it was formed in 1959. He and his wife Bernice had three sons.