Inquirer Editorial: Renovating Canoe House makes sense for rowers

The East Park Canoe House in Fairmount Park. Temple University officials have agreed to consider renovating the building.
The East Park Canoe House in Fairmount Park. Temple University officials have agreed to consider renovating the building. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 21, 2013

Thanks to the city Commission on Parks and Recreation, Temple University may finally be on the right course to find a Schuylkill River boathouse for its crew team.

The commission has asked the university to investigate renovating the East Park Canoe House, which first opened in 1914, and Temple has agreed to consider that possibility, but no promises have been made.

Initially, Temple wanted to cram a new 23,000-square-foot boathouse between the crumbling Canoe House and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, choking a thin strip of land between the river and Kelly Drive.

That plan would take up precious river frontage as well as a picnic area and parking spaces used by other patrons of Fairmount Park.

A park preservation ordinance would require Temple to swap a similar piece of parkland for the site of a new boathouse. But instead, the university offered the city $1.5 million toward renovating the Canoe House.

The Temple crew team used the Canoe House until 2008, when the city declared it too dangerous. That left Temple rowers without a home, forcing them to store expensive boats in dreary, beige tents and to use portable toilets. They have no place to warm up on cold, wet days, and must haul heavy boats and oars 150 meters to the nearest dock. That is no way to treat one of the city's distinguished university teams.

If renovated, the handsome mission-style Canoe House, which has a distinctive barrel tile roof, could again become a showpiece along the river, instead of a sorry eyesore. Key to fully enjoying that part of the river, though, is repairing a retaining wall that partially collapsed in 2011. The city should take care of that.

If renovating the Canoe House costs more than Temple envisioned for its original land-gobbling project, or if it requires more space for the long boats, the city should lend a hand by helping to raise funds and easing land-use rules. But the city shouldn't give more than its obligation to fix the retaining wall.

Understandably, Temple wants the best for its student athletes. But Philadelphians should not have to make a false choice between providing parkland for everyone or a home for the university's crew team. Renovating the historic East Park Canoe House would make the most sense for everyone.

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