Rowing facility nears completion

Karlee Weinmann

After seven seasons of effort, the University’s women’s rowing team finally has a substantial, accessible facility to call home.

Until now, the team called a tent on the river’s edge – with virtually no amenities – home. Rowers had no way to shower or dry off after practices. And from November to April, the team needed to take the tent down, which left rowers without their most basic resources.

In the colder months, temperatures were too low for rowers to stretch.

But rowers will be much warmer come this November, when the new $4.6 million boathouse at East River Flats Park is slated for completion, after nearly seven months of construction.

The University administration contributed $2.35 million to the project.

The University recreational sports department will provide $750,000 because the men’s recreational rowing team also will have access to the boathouse. The balance will be raised through private donations by the athletics department.

Wendy Davis, the team’s coach, said she was excited about what the building will mean for her program.

“This is honestly so huge,” she said. “Our indoor winter facility will now be on par with the top-10 programs, four of which we’ve beaten.”

The rowing team ranked as high as ninth in the nation last season. Still, it was the only University varsity team without its own facility.

“We’ve shown how good we are already. We have an excellent plan to row, but (the boathouse) lends credence to our program,” Davis said.

First-boat rower and architecture senior Berit Tomten, who’s in her fourth year on the team, said the boathouse will allow for team bonding.

“We’ll be able to have a place to gather and have team meetings,” Tomten said. “We’ll be able to be in the same place together all the time, and that will definitely improve the team dynamic.”

The boathouse is a good investment, because it will be around for many years to come, said Sherrie Peterson, a first-year finance student.

“But it’s a lot of money to spend on a boathouse,” she said.

Business graduate student Chase Franzen said the project’s price tag represents only a small portion of University spending.

“But I’d like to see the University more accountable for financial decisions like that,” he said.

Construction talk began before the team’s inaugural season and before Davis was hired to coach the team. In the late 1990s, the then-women’s athletics director procured $3 million in bonds for the project. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Davis said, she knew there would be financial trouble.

The economic decline brought on by the attacks was a major setback for the plan. In April 2002, the University halted the project and cut three sports.

“It was awful for everyone,” Davis said.

The team lost the initial $3 million, but after rebounding from the fiscal crisis, the University reinstated a plan to build a facility for the team.

Davis said she’s pleased with how the University and its president, Bob Bruininks, handled the team’s situation.

“We’re here because they’re committed to us being here and to the excellence we’re striving for,” she said. “When you know that (they support us), you can go through a lot, and we have.”