GREENE — Donations of more than $2.5 million will help Bates College build a boathouse and training center for the varsity rowing team that’s more suited to its Androscoggin River location.
“We don’t have a buoyed race course, but as far as row-able water that’s protected from the elements and does not have a lot of traffic on it, this is just outstanding,” head coach Peter Steenstra said.
The rowing team, about 78 Bates men and women, has been using a pole-barn structure with river access since 1988. The rustic barn, with dirt floors and no electricity, is on two college-owned house lots in Greene, just off of North River Road.
Construction on its replacement will begin there in 2015, and should be ready for use by the fall of 2016.
The boathouse will be a single-story, 7,500-square-foot facility with space for boat storage, lockers, showers, office and an indoor training room with rowing machines.
It’s a perfect complement to the 7.5 miles of Androscoggin River water the team uses to train.
“This is a great place, one of the best places in the East — without question,” Steenstra said. “Our dock is right in the middle of more than 12,000 meters of water we can use to train on. You can go 6,000 meters south and you run into the (Gulf Island) Dam or you can go 5,500 meters north, under the bridge to Turner, and north.”
It’s a testament to the quality of the river, according to college spokesman Doug Hubley.
“I think it speaks to the fact that the Androscoggin River is coming back as a recreational resource,” Hubley said.
Bates has had the team since 1986. It initially trained out of Twitchell’s Airport in Turner until the college acquired the land on the other side of the river.
“When we started, just like any rowing program out there, you start by taking walk-on athletes and introducing them to rowing,” Steenstra said. “Most college programs have a ‘novice’ team, where everybody is still learning. That’s where we started.”
The college recruits the bulk of its team now, he said, and they consistently perform well.
The Bates women rowers have been a major force at the NCAA championships, posting runner-up finishes five straight years from 2009 to 2013. The team’s victory in the Women’s Collegiate Eights race at the Head of the Charles was equivalent to a fall national championship, Steenstra said.
The Bates women also won the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston this month.
The men’s team has finished in the top three in the New England Small College Athletic Conference for four years and earned a silver medal at the Eastern College National Conference National Invitational Rowing Championships in 2012.
The boathouse is being designed by Peterson Architects of Cambridge, Mass. It’s being paid for entirely by donations from alumni and parents of Bates students.