Robert Morris officials hope to build boat house

Community and school teams would benefit

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Robert Morris University is looking for "partners" to help build a $4 to $6 million, 22,000 square foot boathouse for rowers on the bank of the Ohio River on Neville Island.

About 100 people -- including business owners and rowing enthusiasts -- attended a public meeting held by RMU officials last Thursday.

The boathouse would be built on the 32-acre site of the Island Sports Center, which the Moon-based university has owned since 2003.

The boathouse would be used by the 36 members of the Robert Morris women's rowing team and would also be available to adult rowers and high school teams. The facility would have room for 85 boats from five teams. There would also be banquet and meeting rooms.

The firm DLA Architecture presented color drawings of the proposed building at the meeting, held in the Hat Trick Club, which overlooks the river where RMU's women's team practices rowing.

There is no timetable for construction and the university is just starting a fundraising campaign, said Craig Coleman, director of athletics at Robert Morris.

"As president of the university I want this," Gregory G. Dell'Omo said. "We think the time is right for a boathouse. We have not been able to provide the rowing team with the facility they deserve. Rowing has seen a surge in popularity at this university and across the nation."

RMU has 23 NCAA Division I sports, including women's rowing, said Dr. Coleman. "That's more teams than Pitt or WVU."

The Island Sports Center is home to a number of those teams, including hockey, track and rowing.

The rowing team started in 1997 with 12 members and now has 36 on the roster.

The university team has no boathouse and no dock. They have permission to use the dock of a neighboring bowling alley, Paradise Island Bowl, to get their 10 aluminum boats into the river.

"Our boats are out on the lawn," said team captain Nicole Spellman. "They cut the grass around them. We don't sleep so well when it hails."

The athletic director said "people are hungry for another rowing facility, particularly at this end of town."

One Coraopolis businessman said he thinks the boathouse could be good for nearby communities.

"I get a lot of business at night from the hockey teams" who play in the rinks at the Island Sports Center, said Anthony G. Celeste of Anthony Jr.'s Italian Restaurant.

Architect Dennis L. Astorino of DLA Architecture said the proposed building would be built of wood, glass and metal panels in a style that mimics a boat moving down towards the Ohio River.

RMU rowing coach Midge McPhail said: "I know if we build this it will be bursting at the seams in five or six years." In addition to high school and college teams, many adults in the Pittsburgh area row and compete in "masters" competition.

"I have seen lives changed by rowing," Ms. McPhail said, and that would include her own.

When she enrolled at a freshman at Ohio State University, she was 32 years old, married and the mother of two children.

She said she was walking across campus when a university official "tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to be a Division I athlete."

She was recruited for the rowing team, though she had never put oar to water.

"I'm six feet tall," she said with a chuckle.

She won a full athletic scholarship and "was the most mature member of the team."

After graduating with a degree in psychology, she had been accepted to a Ph.D. psychology program when Ohio State offered her a job as an assistant rowing coach. She took that job until 1997, when she came to Robert Morris as head coach.

"We know there is a need" for more rowing facilities, Ms. McPhail said, "and we want people to have access. If we could get some of these girls scholarships, wouldn't that be awesome?"

Richard Butler of the U.S. Rowing Association said his organization's goal is to "make sure all Americans have access to rowing," which he said is a sport that people of all ages and sizes can participate in and enjoy. His organization has 15,000 individual members and 1,200 member rowing organizations.


Correction/Clarification: (Published April 29, 2011) Robert Morris University is hoping to raise $4 million to $6 million to build a boathouse on the banks of the Ohio River at the school's Island Sports Center on Neville Island. A story Thursday in West Suburban Xtra had an incorrect cost estimate.

Correction/Clarification: (Published May 5, 2011) Robert Morris University hopes to raise $4 million to $6 million to build a boathouse on the banks of the Ohio River at the university's Island Sports Center on Neville Island. The cost estimate was incorrect in last week's story.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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