Design unveiled, fundraising begins for Mystic boathouse project
Stonington — The Friends of Stonington Crew has released renderings of the boathouse it plans to build in the proposed Mystic River Boathouse Park and says it has begun fundraising for the $2.5 million building.
Meanwhile, the town has slated a Sept. 9 forum from 10 a.m. to noon at Latitude 41 restaurant at Mystic Seaport to present plans for the town’s separate $2.2 million development of the park and get input from the public.
The town has agreed to develop the public park while the friends group has agreed to raise money and construct the 6,500-square-foot Hart Perry Community Rowing Center, which will be used by both the Stonington High School crew team and community rowing programs. It will also upgrade the existing dock.
The preliminary design for the two-story boathouse calls for two bays — one for the high school team and one for community rowing programs — as well as locker rooms on the ground floor and a training and event center on the second floor. The architecture of the building is designed to resemble a traditional boathouse while meshing with the neighboring Mystic Seaport. The Friends group would like to break ground in 2019.
First Selectman Rob Simmons, who has been a major supporter of the project, saying it will also give kayakers, canoers and others access to the water, pointed out that residents have already approved $2.2 million in bonding to create the park.
“Now we’re giving them a chance to throw a few dollars into the hopper for the boathouse,” he said. “This should be the people’s park and the people’s boathouse.”
The fundraising effort began 10 days ago with an event at Stonington Vineyards and $100,000 has already been raised. Resident Richard Larkin, who is heading up the fundraising effort, said the Friends group will conduct a traditional capital campaign with a major gifts portion and then a public portion. The Friends will also reach out to the 700 former high school team members and their families and take advantage of social media. A large fundraising event is being planned for Sept. 22 to kick off the capital campaign.
Both Larkin and Michael O’Neill, who is the vice-chairman of the town’s boathouse park committee, said they are confident the group can raise the money for the project.
The boathouse will be named after the late Hart Perry of North Stonington, who died in 2011. He was collegiate rower and coach who was involved in the sport from the local to international level.
“He wanted to see rowing become something more than a sport done at prep schools. He had a dream of building a boathouse on the Mystic River,” said O’Neill. “There’s no better person to honor than Hart Perry.”
The Stonington High School team is an example of Perry’s dream. Created 20 years ago, the team won a state championship and finished third nationally in 2016.
Despite receiving minimal funding from the school system, which forces rowers to pay a fee and the Friends group to raise up to $80,000 in operating funds each year, the team has beaten prep schools whose programs are fully funded. The team, which has outgrown the facilities it uses at Mystic Seaport, has become the most popular one at the high school in terms of participation, with 90 rowers last year.
Nine of the 13 graduating seniors on the team last year are now going on to row on the collegiate level for schools such as the Coast Guard Academy, Tufts, Villanova and George Washington. Over the past 20 years, 36 rowers have received college scholarships, more than those in any other sport at the high school.
“If successful, for the first time Stonington Crew will have a home to store equipment, provide training space for its athletes, and a place to host regattas and events. More importantly, Stonington will have a community facility where people young and old can gain access to the Mystic River for recreation and to enjoy rowing,” O’Neill said at the Stonington Vineyards event.
He also pointed out that interest in adult rowing is growing. In addition, he said the Mystic River is a perfect body of water to row on and the park and boathouse will now give the community access to it.
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