A new building has risen from the shore of Silver Lake southeast of Medical Lake that will house the Gonzaga University women’s and men’s rowing teams, providing a new home for the program.
For decades, the teams have operated on the Spokane River from a boathouse near the Upriver Dam and in recent years they’ve been practicing on Silver Lake after launching from a local Bible camp, said Rob Kavon, Gonzaga’s associate director of athletics, facilities and event operations.
The rowing team had been looking for a new home on Silver Lake because the Bible camp no longer has the space for them, Kavon said. “The rowing team loves the lake, the layout of it and how it’s sheltered,” he said. “We wanted to stay out here. We’ve been trying to find property for a long time.”
Kavon found a farmer with 500 acres up for sale with plenty of lake frontage and the farmer agreed to split off five acres and sell it to the university, Kavon said. The parcel is actually smaller than that because at Silver Lake the property line is in the middle of the lake, he said. About three acres of the land is above water.
The lake sits almost perfectly north-south and there’s not much wind, which makes it perfect for rowing, Kavon said. “It’s narrow, so you don’t get a lot of waves,” he said. “It’s long and straight.”
The 12,000-square-foot building will house men’s and women’s locker rooms, public restrooms, a stretching area and storage for 30 boats, each 60 feet long. The building, which is still under construction, will have heated floors and looks a lot like a large barn.
“That’s what we were going for, so it can blend in,” Kavon said of the design. “We didn’t want to put a big industrial building out here and create an eyesore.”
The land was purchased for $200,000 in 2017 and the entire project, including construction, will cost close to $1 million when complete. “For what we get, it’s a pretty good price,” he said. “It’s pretty utilitarian.”
The boat house will have a 60-foot concrete apron to provide space to work on the boats, then it’s an additional 200 feet to the water’s edge. The distance from shore was mandated by the Department of Ecology shoreline regulations and will require that the rowers carry their boats to and from the water, he said.
Gonzaga University is not paying for the project, however. The project is funded completely by donors, and fundraising is ongoing, Kavon said. “We’re pretty much donor funded on all major projects,” he said.
He and others from the university attended a meeting of the local homeowner’s association early on the process to talk about the project, Kavon said. The community has been very welcoming to the rowing teams, he said.
“Everybody has been great about it,” he said.
Women’s rowing head coach Marisa Wortman said her team is excited about the new facility. “We’re really thrilled about that,” she said. “I’d like to starting hosting more races out at the lake once we have our facility finalized.”
Wortman, now in her first year as head coach, was an assistant coach with the team for three years. The team has been on a winning streak, collecting 17 West Coast Conference championships. The defending champions have won first place in the WCC for the last four years and were picked to finish first again this year in a recent preseason poll.
“They are the most winningest winning women’s team on campus,” said Wortman.
The key when training is to figure out how to “sneak speed” into the races by developing their timing and power, Wortman said. To be the best the team has to focus on unity and clean execution. “It’s arms, bodies, legs,” she said. “Everybody is doing the same thing.”
Her team’s first home race on March 24 is scheduled to be held at the new Silver Lake facility. Oregon State, Washington State, Loyola Marymount and Seattle Pacific universities are planning to attend. “It will be a good little race,” she said.
Unfortunately, Kavon said the new boat house is unlikely to be complete in time for the race. He’s also nervous about whether all the snow and ice will be melted off the lake by then. “Our biggest focus is on getting the boat storage done,” he said. “With weather and other issues, we won’t be done.”
People are invited to attend the race at the new facility, which is located at 11410 S. Silver Lake Road. “We’ll try to make a trail if we have snow,” Kavon said.
The goal is to have the boat house “functional” by April 1. It will be officially dedicated with an open house event in the fall, with details to be announced.