Officials: boathouse should be ready by end of June

The $5.5 million project will serve the university’s crew and rowing teams.

Repairs on the East Park Canoe House, condemned by the city in 2008, started last July. | ANDREW THAYER TTN FILE PHOTO

Construction on the East Park Canoe House will reach “substantial completion” by the end of June and will be ready for the rowing and crew teams to move in by the end of September, university officials said.

The project began in July 2015 after the city and Temple trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest agreed on a partnership to fund the restoration. The Lenfest Foundation donated $3 million to the project, and the city pledged $2.5 million.

The restoration will include locker rooms for the rowing and crew teams in the southern wing, storage for the teams’ boats and oars in the northern wing and a trophy room and space for the Philadelphia Police Department’s marine unit in the center block of the boathouse.

Until the teams move into the boathouse, they will continue to work out of military-grade tents a quarter-mile downriver from the boathouse. The tents, held up by metal framework, are 15 feet wide by 65 feet long—just enough to hold the boats.

“I don’t know if you prioritize running water or electricity or heat, any of those three—shelter—all of them,” said rowing of Women’s Rowing Rebecca Grzybowski, of what feature would be most important to the boathouse.

Brian Perkins, assistant coach for Men’s Crew, said the tents don’t always protect the boats from the weather. Tree branches have poked holes in the tents and they fall off when it gets windy. The tents even caused damage once in 2010, Perkins said, when the roof collapsed, damaging several boats and oars, which each cost about $40,000 and $400 respectively.

“The boats bake in the summer and freeze in the winter,” Perkins said. “There’s no shelter from the elements at all.”

Perkins said the boats can last about four to six years in the tents, but cannot be sold once they have been worn out. In the boathouse, however, he said the boats could last another two to three years and still maintain a resale value.

University Architect Margaret Carney said the boathouse will be safe and occupiable by June and will just need to be “furnished.”

Carney said restoring a historic building can be more difficult than building a completely new structure because the contractors have to keep the historic integrity intact.

“The boathouse has such a strong character and presence, it’s majestic really—we’d never be able to recreate that with a new building,” Carney said. “The ornate windows had the original glass taken out, which was then repaired, finished and put back in.”

She added the original wooden brackets that support the ceilings, which reach 20 feet at the peak, have been restored to look brand-new. The roof had its original clay tiles removed, but the contractors were able to find the original makers and ordered tiles identical to the ones made more than 100 years ago.

Carney held up a photo of the interior of the boathouse from before renovations. Light filtered through the windows, but a huge room was still dark and dusty with spray paint on the chipped drywall and stucco.

She said the builders are now focusing on the simplest part, the north bay, where the boats are stored.

“It’s exciting to work on a building that’s this precious,” Carney said. “We get to see it come back to life.”

Julie Christie can be reached at or on Twitter @ChristieJules.

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