City law has slowed Temple’s process of building a boathouse for the crew teams.
The Schuylkill River is one of the most celebrated venues for competitive rowing in the world.
With ideal training conditions set by tranquil currents come morning and its borders decorated by the iconic lights of Boathouse Row by night, the Schuylkill has been the epicenter of rowing in the United States for more than 150 years.
However, positioned on the east bank of the river, at the midpoint of the 2,000-meter race that calls the Schuylkill home, is a rundown building thats current state doesn’t measure up to the esteemed history of its neighbors.
The building, condemned in 2008 due to multiple code violations, is the East Park Canoe House, the former boathouse of the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams. Though the canoe house, which was built in the 1920s to facilitate Olympic training, served Temple for more than 80 years, its deterioration has left the Owls homeless for the past four years.
Temple has been a part of ongoing negotiations with the city to acquire land to build a new boathouse and hopes to have the process completed by the city council session in June.
“The university is committed to getting this done, working through the process with the city and is anxious to get Temple a boathouse,” said Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for government, community and public affairs.
At a March 2011 Board of Trustees meeting, President Ann Weaver Hart announced that Temple was in negotiations with the city to secure a plot of land north of the condemned building and south of Strawberry Mansion Bridge to build a new boathouse on the east side of the river.
Though no timetable for acquiring the land was given, talks have been held up by an amendment passed the following month that changed the process for transferring public parkland in Philadelphia.
The bill requires that any entity seeking to transfer ownership of parkland must give back a plot of parkland of equal value or size to the city. Since Temple doesn’t have parkland to provide, it must pass the bill’s alternatives analysis in which the university has to provide a detailed explanation of the public good of the land transfer. Temple is the first entity to go through this process since the bill passed.
“There’s been a lot of back and forth with the city,” Lawrence said. “The city would like to see boathouses on the other side of the river, on the west side. We prefer to be on the east side. It was about identifying the parcel of land and having a reasonable plan that would work with the city. In the interim, this bill passed that made this process a little bit longer.”
Meanwhile, Temple’s rowing teams have been using tents set up next to the former boathouse to store their equipment for the past four years, which have caused more problems than they’ve solved. The walls collapsed in Fall 2009 and storms of Winter 2010 caused another collapse, plus a flood of the tents.
“The former building was nasty, the roof was falling in and there was asbestos all over the place,” men’s crew coach Gavin White said. “It was a mess. But it was a roof over your head and we had portable heaters so you could get warm and stay dry. The tents, they’re OK. We lost $150,000 worth of equipment when they collapsed.”
“There’s no running water. There’s no heat, so in the winter it’s really cold,” senior women’s rower Taylor Wasserleben said. “When it’s raining, everything gets really wet. It’s really tight. We have all of our stuff in the guys tent, so in the morning it gets cramped so we have to be extra careful with the equipment.”
Forced to share space with the women’s team, the men’s team keeps half of its equipment in the tent and half on a trailer outside, less than 100 yards away from St. Joseph’s state-of-the-art boathouse.
Senior men’s rower Brian Reehill said the limited facilities only motivate the team.
“It makes us tougher,” Reehill said. “Everyday we come in, grab our boats and walk a quarter mile to put our boats in the dock. We don’t have a dock. We don’t have running water. [Portable toilets] are our bathrooms. It’s frustrating, but it’s worth it.”
“We’re faced with challenges everyday as other teams are,” women’s rowing coach Jason Read said. “Our challenges are a little bit more acute. The women’s team doesn’t have a tent anymore. We have two really strong Division-I programs, but only one small tent.”
In a description provided at the March 2011 Board of Trustees meeting, Hart said Temple’s proposed boathouse would have multiple floors with racks, locker rooms, training tanks and banquet halls.
Read, who won a rowing gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, said Temple would have the finest boathouse in America.
“I can say that and will tell anyone that because I have trained out of dozens of boathouses throughout the country and have been to boathouses throughout the world,” Read said. “The plans that we’ve seen are jaw-dropping. They’re extraordinary.”
“It would be tremendous,” White said. “The administrators could hold cocktail parties and banquets at the canoe club on the second floor and it could be really nice. The whole process is exciting. I just hope they get it done soon.”
White said that a new boathouse would also work wonders for recruiting rowers to Temple, which will enter the Big East Conference for women’s rowing in 2013.
“We’ve had difficulty recruiting kids,” White said. “Most kids don’t want to row for four years out of a tent. Once we get the new boathouse, that will change.”
“The kids coming in this September, we hope to have a boathouse over their heads before they graduate,” White added. “But who knows?”
Lawrence said Temple is still developing the alternatives analysis that the university hopes will be submitted before the June council session. Once that happens, the boathouse proposal will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for final approval.
Lawrence added if those processes are completed, the timetable for building is uncertain.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com.