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When is a Boathouse Not Just a Boathouse?
New Haven’s new public project is a community center in disguise.

Ever since Interstate 95 was built in the 1950s, New Haven has been largely cut off from its waterfront. But a new community boathouse will soon make it easier for the public to enjoy the harbor—and not just in boats.

The boathouse has been in the works since 1999, when plans to replace the bridge that carries I-95 over the harbor were finalized. The new bridge required destruction of a historic New Haven waterfront building; to help compensate for the loss, the state and feds allocated $30 million for a public boathouse at Long Wharf and other waterfront improvements.

The demolished building was also originally a boathouse, built by Yale for its varsity crews in 1911. Just five years later, the harbor had grown too busy for serious racing, and Yale moved its varsity boats to the Housatonic River. Yale continued using the building—the Adee Memorial Boathouse—for intramural crew, but eventually, the facility was sold and converted to office space.

The new building will incorporate many salvaged materials from Adee, including an entrance portal, a staircase, bulldog carvings, and a fireplace. But it will be much more than a boathouse. The two-story building is designed for multiple community uses, with a terrace, a catering kitchen, a teaching room, and two large event spaces.

As for the boats, they will be kayaks, canoes, sailboats, racing shells, and “anything without a motor,” says Karyn Gilvarg ’75MArch, head of the City Plan Department. Once construction is complete, around November 2014, the city will lease the building to a nonprofit, founded to run the facility and keep it financially self-sustaining. The nonprofit will offer recreational activities for a diverse population, says Gilvarg, from high school and college-aged students to veterans’ groups and seniors.

The boathouse is rising on the site of the former Canal Dock, where the Farmington Canal (and later a railroad line that took its place) met the harbor in the 1800s. But it will rest on a new concrete platform, about an acre in size, that will be built out over the water. So New Haveners will gain not only a waterside community center, but also a large new public space where they can stroll by the waterfront and enjoy the view.  the end


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