One day in Fall 1988, Brian Perkins fell through the dock and into the Schuylkill.
Once Perkins, then a freshman on the crew team, got out of the water, coach Gavin White came over and put his arm around him.
“You’re not gonna sue, kid, are you?” White asked.
Perkins hadn’t even thought of the possibility. White told him the city condemned the dock five years prior.
“It was serviceable,” Perkins said of the Owls’ facilities during his years on the team from 1988-92.
“The garage doors worked, we had indoor plumbing,” he added. “It was home. We didn’t really care. Temple Crew was the team, not so much the facility. But it was not awesome.”
Perkins went on to work as a graduate assistant from 1995-98 and as an assistant coach for the last six seasons before taking over as the head coach following White’s retirement in May.
Temple began using the East Park Canoe House in 1969 but had to use military-grade tents to store its equipment after the building was condemned in 2008. The teams, which are sharing the building with the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit, moved their boats back into the building on Nov. 18.
The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department hosted a dedication ceremony for the East Park Canoe House on March 9. Alumni and students dedicated a plaque to university trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, whose foundation pledged $3 million toward the $5 million project in February 2014. President Richard Englert also attended the celebration.
The project began in July 2015. In April, officials said the project would reach “substantial completion” by the end of June and the teams would be able to move in by the end of September.
The East Park Canoe House, which was built in 1914, is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The project won an award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia this year. Tom McCreesh, Temple’s director of regulatory compliance and special projects, told The Temple News in November that the detailed nature of restoration caused the project to take longer.
The building has a space for calisthenics, video reviews, lockers and coaches’ offices. Temple has “more room for boats than [it has] ever had before” and “the best dock in Philadelphia,” Perkins said. He won’t be falling into the river anytime soon.
“It means a lot from a security perspective, but then just to be able to relax into that space and work hard but work hard in a place of more comfort, it means a lot to everybody, coaches and athletes included,” rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski told The Temple News in November.
“Really just getting the athletes off the water and some place safe every day is something we haven’t really been able to offer for the last eight years,” Perkins said.
The rowing team has its largest-ever recruiting class with 10 signees from the Class of 2017. Caprial Turner, a senior at Vashon Island High School near Seattle, called Temple an “up-and-coming” program. She took her official visit in September, before the complete restoration of East Park Canoe House.
“In my experience, it didn’t really play a part,” Turner said of the boathouse. “I mean obviously, it was definitely like a cool thing. It’s always really nice to have really nice facilities, especially me coming from a smaller club in Washington when we’ve been rowing out of a cold, small boathouse that we share with canoers.”
“It kind of depends on the person,” she added. “I feel like maybe nice facilities might be more important to some people than it is to me.”
While the Owls operated out of tents, Perkins looked for recruits who “saw the dust, the dirt, the muck and the mire and said, ‘This is where I belong.’” The renovated East Park Canoe House will be a source of pride.
“Now that we have the boathouse, we row by that boathouse right on the center of the course and these guys know they have a home now,” Perkins said. “That is their home. They have to defend it. This our river, our home, our race course and that’s just a big visual aid for those guys.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.