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Franklin Pierce University Campus History: Northfields / Bubble

Franklin Pierce University was founded in 1962 on the shores of Pearly Pond in Rindge, New Hampshire. This guide explores the growth of the campus over the past 50 years.





History of the Bubble

The Bubble, as it is commonly known, has also been called the Northfields Activity Center and the Grimshaw Gudewicz Activity Center.

The Bubble was erected in the winter of 1995, when a community "barn raising" was held. Students, faculty, and staff, armed with plastic shovels and brooms, removed a great deal of snow from the fabric, which had been prepared for inflation, then caught by a heavy snowstorm.  Never before had so many individuals at Franklin Pierce rallied to assist in the construction of a campus facility. In fact, many were wearing inappropriate footwear and had no mittens, as all were abruptly ordered from their jobs to assist. In two hours the air frame was free of snow and it was raised on December 15, 1995. It was formally dedicated on Founders Day, November 13, 1997. It was built with a $400,000 gift from the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Charitable Trust.

The 1995 Bubble was constructed by Tensar Structures, Inc. of Akron, N.Y. It was a 72,000 square foot, seven-story high air frame structure.   It housed a cardio and strength area, two tennis courts, two full basketball courts, an all-purpose area, a double lane track, and a 50 yard turf field. There is a clubhouse on the second floor of the brick building in front of the bubble.  (Pierce Arrow, 9/21/95)

On September 26, 1998, the bubble deflated after being punctured by vandals.  Three individuals sliced a 10 foot gash in the back side of the Bubble.  Soon, over 100 student volunteers assisted in lowering the airframe to prevent more damage. A day later, Tensar, the bubble creators, were on campus, making repairs. It was fully operational again by Monday at 6 pm. Luckily damage was minimal. (Pierce Arrow, 10/15/98)

On February 5, 2001, the Bubble deflated under a particularly heavy snow. A 22" snowfall loaded the structure with such a heavy load of snow and ice that a main support cable snapped.  Many students were in the bubble, playing floor hockey or working out when the cable snapped. All were evacuated safely. The fabric covering was not reusable, and plans were made for a new bubble. (Pierce Arrow, 2/9/01).   Two weeks later, the college had a contract with A.S.A.T.I. Corporation for an airframe structure that was much more resistant to the forces of nature. "It will be nice knowing this will never happen again," said one avid bubble user. The new structure was planned to be installed during spring break. (Pierce Arrow, 2/21/01)

By April 12, 2001, a new bubble had been erected. Although damage to the volleyball and basketball floors prevented their use until summer, the majority of the facility was open to students. A new netting system was created for the tennis courts. Unlike the first bubble, with its eight seams, the new bubble had only three connecting points. There was also a new harness system to prevent the Bubble from "ever collapsing again."   (Pierce Arrow, 4/13/2001)



In 2006, vandalism to the rear of the structure led to a security firm being hired to protect the fabric.  Another danger was people climbing the outside of the bubble. Large lights were installed as well, leading to unexpected illumination of some neighboring dorm rooms. (Pierce Arrow, 4/28/2006)

In summer, 2008, the downstairs lobby received a facelift, with a complete renovation. (Pierce Arrow, 8/30/08)

During the winter pressure is increased to make the surface firmer and withstand the weight of snow and the actions of the wind.  The heat is also turned up to help melt snow and ice. In 2009 wood pellet boilers were installed at the Bubble to cut the CO2 emissions and save on heating costs. The wood pellet boiler was slightly larger than the one installed at Granite Hall, and would replace the propane system.  (Pierce Arrow, 10/1/09)

In 2011, FPU proposed sharing use of the Bubble with Conant High School track team in exchange for utilizing their outdoor field for the new Track team. 

In November 2011, two incidents of vandalism occurred at the Bubble. The exterior fabric was slashed, leading to some deflation. The same evening an EMS squad car caught fire below Granite Hall. The five slashes were between 3'-4' long. It took five hours to stitch them back together. The other incident was a rock through a window.  (Pierce Arrow, 12-8-11)

On February 9, 2013, the second bubble collapsed under the weight of several feet of snow and high winds. Equipment punctured the fabric and destroyed the bubble framework. With the damage to the fabric, a new bubble had to be fabricated to fit the site.  A temporary small tent was set up to serve as a weight room while a new bubble was under manufactured. (Pierce Arrow, 2/14/13, 3/14/13)

On May 1, 2013, a new bubble was installed and inflated, much to the relief of the campus community. However, the bubble was not ready for use until fall semester. On October 4th, in late afternoon, the bubble was officially opened and a reception was held in the clubhouse. The women's volleyball and lacrosse teams immediately began practice, the CrossFit class surged into action, and many happy students filled the new machinery.


Archival Resources:

Campus Buildings Box CB4

Franklin Pierce Magazine:

v.19, no. 1 Spring 2001

v.19, no. 2, Summer 2001

Pierce Magazine:

Spring 1996

Fall 1997

Fall 2009

Pierce Radius:

Spring 2009

Franklin Pierce Accomplishments, 1996-2000

Pierce Arrow














Grimshaw-Gudewicz Activity Center