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January 16, 2013

Temple makes its case for a new boathouse

A five-year process to get Temple its own boathouse took the next step Wednesday night, when the Philadelphia Commission of Parks and Recreation held a public hearing to review the university's proposal.

At Lloyd Hall gymnasium in a hearing that lasted more than two hours, dozens of members of the public spoke to the 14-person commission arguing for and against the proposal. The Commission now will have to put together a final recommendation to City Council, which has the power of approval, and submit it before March 9.

Temple is trying to acquire a half-acre plot of land to build a new boathouse on Kelly Drive south of the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and north of the East Park Canoe House, Temple's rowing home until it was condemned in 2008.

The university submitted an analysis to the city in October arguing for the public good of the boathouse that had to undergo a period of 30 days of public comment before Wednesday's meeting reviewing the proposal.

The proposal included a 10-page analysis detailing the public good of the boathouse developed by Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, and a staff that included University Architect Margaret Carney. That report was originally submitted in June 2012, but the city requested further documentation in the form of an analysis of the effects the boathouse would have on the environment of Kelly Drive.

Temple paid Pennoni, a consulting firm, to complete the environmental analysis for an undisclosed amount. That, along with Lawrence's analysis, was submitted to the city in October.

At the hearing Wednesday, proponents of the new boathouse argued in favor of giving the student-athletes, who have been forced to share space in a tent, a home to call their own, as well as the public interest in beautifying an otherwise unused piece of land.

Senior rower Paige O'Sullivan, who spoke at the meeting, said Temple would be making something out the piece of land where the former boathouse sits condemned.

"We're going to make it more beautiful and make it for public use, because that boathouse that's there isn't doing anything," O'Sullivan said in an interview. "I think it would really support everyone in the situation."

Opponents of the proposal say that Temple hasn't fulfilled all the requirements of a city ordinance passed last year, requiring any entity seeking to transfer ownership of public parkland to give back an equal plot of land to the city.

Temple included in its proposal a pledge to donate $1.5 million to renovating the East Park Canoe House to fulfill that requirement. Members of the public, including representatives from the Philadelphia Parks Alliance and Fairmount Park Conservancy, said that doesn't solve the problem of taking away public parkland for private use.

"I understand it's a huge project and there are both sides to it," rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski said in an interview. "If everyone were in universal agreement, it would have happened years ago. Everyone has a voice and everyone deserves to be heard in this process, and that's what this was all about."

Lawrence, who along with Carney answered questions from the Commission and the public throughout the meeting, said in an interview that Temple would work out whatever issues the city has.

"We consider it an open process," Lawrence said. "We'll continue to have conversations with the commission to get the result that we need to get to, to secure the land and get a boathouse for our students."

Temple had shared space in the East Park Canoe House since the program started until EPCH was condemned four years ago. A new boathouse would mark the first time in school history that the rowing and crew teams have a house to call their own.

"People practice in challenging conditions all over the country," Grzybowski said. "It's a little exhausting if you take it big picture, but we just take it one day at a time."

Joey Cranney can be reached at jcranney17@gmail.com.


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