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A stroke of shovels launches boathouse renovation and new building for rowing

Groundbreaking ceremony for boathouse project

From left to right, Mike Staines '71, Caroline Post (women's rowing team member), Todd Kennett '91, Bob Staley '57, Sue VanderMeer '90 and Cornell Athletics Director Andy Noel at the June 12 groundbreaking.

In recent years, the Cornell rowing teams have undergone a renovation of sorts. It began five years ago when the men's lightweight crew won three straight national championship crowns from 2006 to 2008, and it continued this year as the men's heavyweight and women's rowing teams enjoyed their best seasons in recent history.

Sketch of renovated boathouse

Artist's conception of the completed boathouse renovation and expansion project. Image provided by HGA Architects and Engineers.

That renovation shifted from figurative to literal on June 12 when nearly 150 alumni and friends of the rowing program gathered at the John Collyer Boathouse on Ithaca's inlet to celebrate as Cornell broke ground on its $8 million Boathouse Renovation and Expansion Project, which should be completed in less than a year.

The renovation will be extensive but will maintain the integrity of the original structure. A new two-story structure will be built on the east end of the current Collyer Boathouse to house dressing rooms and showers, a meeting space and a tradition room to recognize Big Red rowing accomplishments. The building (designed by HGA Architects and Engineers of Minneapolis) will be connected to Collyer via a two-story entrance lobby with a second-floor bridge. The adjacent Doris Robison Shell House's interior will be used strictly for shell storage. Meanwhile, Collyer's second-floor interior will be rebuilt as an open training area for men and women's rowing programs, including an exercise area and weightlifting stations. Another boat storage building will be added to the south side of Robison to store rowing shells, launches, stake boats and buoys.

Among those throwing in a few ceremonial shovels of dirt at the groundbreaking were Andy Noel, Cornell director of athletics and physical education; Todd Kennett, the Spirit of '57 Director of Rowing; Mike Staines '71, the past Cornell Rowing Association chair; Sue Kallfelz VanderMeer '90, the Cornell Rowing Association chair-elect; and Bob Staley '57, a former oarsman for the 1957 heavyweight championship crew who cumulatively gave the lead gift to the project.

Women's rowing team on Cayuga Inlet

Members of the women's rowing team practice on the Cayuga Inlet earlier this year. Photo by Patrick Shanahan.

"It was a great day," said Kennett. "After 12 years of planning an upgrade it is finally being put into action … It was especially wonderful to have Bob Staley in attendance. He was the positive energy behind this entire project. He has not just been a financial backer of the project, but he personally met with many of the donors, and he has worked for quite a few years now to make it happen. Even when I was sure we would never raise the money needed to complete the project it was his positive attitude and determination that pushed us forward."

"The current boathouse was dedicated during my senior year in 1957, so it is long overdue for an overhaul," said Staley. "Cornell rowing made a real difference in my life; and my wife Elizabeth [Chapman '60] and I thoroughly enjoyed our time at Cornell, so this is a great way to give back."

Collyer Boathouse before renovations

The Collyer Boathouse prior to the start of the renovation and expansion project. Photo by Darl Zehr.

Staley explained why the renovation is so important: "First, the programs have grown substantially over the years and they need the space. Second, the competition is so much greater than it used to be, so you need stronger athletes, and the renovation will allow our rowers to work out and train on the water out of the same facility. Finally, the renovation was needed for gender equity. The women's facilities were not up to the same standard of the men's facilities, and frankly, the men's facilities weren't really that adequate either."

"People in the rowing world always say, 'If you're going to have a boathouse, you should have one out of which athletes want to row.' When we get done with this project, I think we will have just that."

Julie Greco is associate director of Cornell Athletic Communications.

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