It’s no secret what Rachael Braccia is looking forward to most in a boathouse.
“Honestly, bathrooms,” Braccia said.
Braccia, who had never rowed out of a boathouse before, was forced to utilize portable restrooms her novice year after the men’s and women’s rowing teams rowed out of tents.
“The port-a-potties did the job, but it will be very exciting to have bathrooms,” Braccia said.
The rising sophomore will not have to wait much longer as City Council approved plans to renovate the East Park Canoe House, where afterward the University is slated to lease the boathouse property for the next 20 years.
The approval comes in the wake of the Board of Trustees vote to cut the crew and rowing programs because of inadequate facilities last December. The decision was reversed thanks to a $3 million donation from the city and a $2.5 million donation from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.
The two teams will not only have access to restrooms but to lockers and boathouse storage, as well.
Freshman TJ Kuhar believes the boathouse will offer more than just amenities for rowers.
“I think the boathouse will give us that time where we can relax a little bit in the locker rooms, where we are not always sitting in the cold in the winter,” Kuhar said. “I also think it will be big for races, too, because before we would sit in the hot weather before races, which can take a lot out of you but to be in an air condition and relax in the locker room can also help.”
Braccia said the new boathouse will provide a safe place for rowers to leave their personal belongings, where no one will worry about someone taking them.
Yet, with the approval of the lease, the coaching staffs on the men’s and women’s rowing teams are cautiously optimistic about the renovation of their new home.
“We won’t believe we will get a new boathouse until we see it,” men’s coach Gavin White said. “But that is always good news when someone votes in your favor.”
“It’s been a long process, though anything that is positive support is a really good step,” women’s coach Rebecca Grybowski said.
The men’s and women’s teams have been rowing out tents alongside the St. Joseph’s boathouse, just south of Strawberry Mansion bridge, since the EPCH was condemned in 2008. During that time, teams have endured a multiple of storms including the winter storms in 2010, which caused $150,000 worth of equipment damage when the tents collapsed. More recently, nearly four feet of water flooded the tents after a torrential downpour in April.
In 2011, the University officials were in discussions with the city to purchase a plot of land to build a new boathouse, but the university would later withdraw its proposal in 2013.
This past season, the women’s rowing team moved into a separate tent on the opposite side of St. Joseph’s boathouse after sharing equipment space with the men’s crew team. The move is temporary, allowing for closer access to the river, Grybowski said in an April interview.
Now with a $5.5 million renovation, the rowing programs will return to its former home of 80 years in the EPCH.
Once the construction begins, it is expected to last 12 to 18 months, per Mayor Nutter’s announcement in February.
After rowing out of a tent for a year, Braccia said she is happy to have something to look forward to for her junior year.
“Tents were doable, it made it work,” Braccia said. “But a boathouse is just going put all the pieces together.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.