U rowers look to build a boathouse

University athletics department officials are working to get land on the East River Flats.

Jared Roddy

After four years without a permanent facility, Minnesota’s rowing team hopes to have a boathouse by fall 2005.

The team has operated out of a tent on the banks of the Mississippi River, near Sanford Hall, since becoming a varsity program in 2000.

Athletics department officials are working with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board to obtain a parcel of land on the East River Flats to build a $3.5 million to $4 million, 17,000-square-foot facility.

“We were only supposed to be in the tent for 18 months,” coach Wendy Davis said. “But four years laterÖ”

The rowing team’s boats reside in the tent, their rowing machines in the Sports Pavilion and their locker rooms in Mariucci Arena.

Now the team, which is the second-largest at the University, said it hopes to get out of the elements and consolidate their resources in one building.

“This is critical for the rowing team because they have no place to call home,” said Scott Ellison, associate athletics director for facilities and event management. “The ‘U’ is committed to providing crew as a sport, and it’s important we provide facilities for it to be safe and successful.”

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he is worried about the team’s safety and morale.

“As bad as the baseball stadium is, we have one,” Maturi said. “We don’t have a boathouse, but we do have a rowing team.”

Associate Athletics Director Regina Sullivan is in charge of putting the project together. She said the boathouse is a top priority.

“We would like to provide similar resources for our athletes,” she said. “Rowing is the only varsity sport where we have nothing.”

For the last four years, rowers coming off the water said they would often find ice forming on their clothing and in their hair as they put their boats in the unheated tent.

During long stretches of their season, the team was forced to remove the tarp from the tent frame, fearing the weight of the snow could cause a collapse.

“It became a big joke – ‘bring the boats to the boat tent’ – and we’d be standing under this metal skeleton,” senior rower Melissa Roche said.

If the University cannot obtain the East River Flats site, the boathouse could be built where the tent is currently located.

The new building will be shared with the men’s crew club and will also be used for rowing clinics, Sullivan said.

“The University is going to do some things for the parks board,” Parks Commissioner Walt Dziedzic said. “From coaching and teaching to daycare, we want the ‘U’ to help.”

Davis said a new boathouse would be a boon to the rowing team’s recruiting.

“We’ve had recruits that love the campus and the reputation, but then see – or don’t see – the facilities,” she said.

Elizabeth Ponder is a first-year University rower. Ponder said other institutions had better facilities, but she liked Davis and the Minnesota campus.

“It was kind of a downer at the ‘U’ that they didn’t have a boathouse; it would have sold me completely,” she said.

Davis said all of their competitors have permanent structures, most with plumbing and heat.

“You have to realize, we are the coldest institution in the central division,” Davis said. “You’re warm when you’re rowing, but by the time you put

the boats away you have ice in your hair.”

Assistant Vice President of Recreational Sports James Turman said a new facility would also attract new members to the men’s crew club.

“And we’ll feel better that the students and boats are not only safer, but more secure,” he said.

Plans are moving along well, according to park board and University officials.

“I think the plan will get finalized in the next 60 to 90 days,” Dziedzic said.

Sullivan said groundbreaking could come by the end of summer.

Rowers said that while a boathouse will help, the team can remain competitive without it.

“Good equipment can help, but great coaches and eager girls win races,” Roche said. “We don’t race the boathouse.”