Hart Perry Boathouse – Something Special for the Community

The Gateway into Mystic: the proposed Hart Perry Boathouse (on the right) at the Mystic River Boathouse Park opposite the Rossie Mill on Greenmanville Avenue. The mill acted as one of the inspirations for the boathouse design. Courtesy of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee.

23 October 2018

By Göran R Buckhorn

After the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee had held a meeting presenting the master plan for the Hart Perry Boathouse and the Mystic River Boathouse Park, the boathouse got criticized on social media.

While around 70 people gathered at a meeting for the unveiling of the master plan for the Mystic River Boathouse Park and Hart Perry Boathouse by the Mystic River on 11 October gave warm applauds after the presentation of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee, the plan was panned on social media. The majority of those who posted comments about the boathouse on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page and the newspaper The Day’s website were negative about the building’s design.

‘We’ll do another forum. We want this to be a community building. We want people to be excited about it in a good way,’ Mike O’Neill, the director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew and vice chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee, told the local newspaper The Day in an interview.

Rob Simmons, first selectman of the town of Stonington and the chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee, is quoted saying to The Day, that he was ‘not surprised by the reaction from people on social media who did not take the time to attend the meeting.’

By not attending the meeting, the people were not able to listen to the presentation by Alex Anmahian, of the firm Anmahian Winton, which is designing the boathouse. Anmahian had many positive things to say about the structure. He and Chad Frost, of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture, the company which is designing the $2.2 million 1.5-acre park, have worked hard to come up with the best solution for the property on 123 Greenmanville Avenue.

‘No, we were not surprised, and we wanted feedback from the community,’ John Thornell, Stonington High School crew varsity girls coach and board member of Friends of Stonington Crew, told HTBS. ‘We were a bit disappointed by some of the negative comments. People may not realize we are all volunteers trying to build something for the Stonington community. He added: ‘It’s a natural part of the process to get feedback. The people on social media didn’t like the contemporary design of the boathouse.’

Isn’t it strange that the people who attended the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee meeting all seemed to like the plans for the boathouse, but people who were not there almost all disliked the plan on social media?

‘It’s hard to have a dialogue on social media,’ Thornell said. ‘Those writing comments were not at the meeting hearing Alex Anmahian talking about the structural constraints and his design inspiration. Whenever I talk with people who aren’t fans of the boathouse design, we can always find a common ground.’

It seemed that those writing on social media had nothing against the park, it was the boathouse design they didn’t like?

‘Yes. But the two go hand-in-hand. Chad [Frost] and Alex [Anmahian] had to balance the park and boathouse needs. People don’t know all the restrictions,’ Thornell said. ‘For example, Kent + Frost planned for predicted rising sea levels of 20 inches in 50 years, which was factored into the elevation of the boathouse.’

People have suggested that the boathouse should be in the middle of the property, but that would ruin the area where people would be able to enjoy the park.

What do you say to people who don’t like a flat roof because it’s ‘ugly’?

‘The suggested boathouse with a flat roof allows us to take advantage of the total floor area on the second floor. Now we will be able to use that floor for indoor training, that’s where we will have the ergs and weights,’ Thornell remarked.

O’Neill explained it to The Day: ‘With a second floor to accommodate indoor training for the high school team, the building had to meet flood zone requirements and height restrictions, which meant it could only have a flat roof.’

In some social media comments, people wanted to see a boathouse like the beautiful boathouses in Boston or the Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

‘It’s nice with “dream buildings”, but it’s difficult to compare those buildings with the one we would like to build on Greenmanville Avenue. It’s also a question of money,’ Thornell said.

According to O’Neill, the budget for the boathouse is $250 – $350 per square foot. There are issues related to coast zoning codes, wind, flood, and the site grounds that require additional building costs. ‘Given all this, the design is a very economical structure,’ O’Neill told HTBS. ‘The designs proposed on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page would cost an addition $100 – $150 per square foot.’

Voices were raised on social media that donors would be unhappy with the suggested boathouse. And that it would be tough to find more donors. What do you think?

‘Donors are more interested in the mission of the rowing center, the benefits to the community, and the legacy of Hart Perry than the boathouse design,’ Thornell answered.

Thornell is repeating what was said at the meeting: ‘We want a good mix of rowers of all ages, students and masters. We plan to get middle school kids rowing, too. We’re excited about developing a community around rowing.’

There will be a second meeting about the master plan for the boathouse and the park, this time at Stonington High School. O’Neill is discussing the date with the town of Stonington. Hopefully, the meeting will be on a Saturday or Sunday to give as many people as possible the opportunity to attend.

‘We would like to offer something special for the community,’ Thornell said.

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