May 4, 2005
By Brian Tom
The rallying cry of the Washington football team this upcoming season is "Return of the Dawg." With the grand re-opening of the Conibear Shellhouse on the west shores of Lake Washington, an apt motto for the UW men's and women's rowing teams may be "Return to the Dock."
With no place to truly call home for the past 16 months as the Conibear Shellhouse was erected, the rowing teams have finally begun moving over their operations to the renovated $18 million building. The crew program will be housed on the lower two floors. The stairways from the main level lead down to the crew coaches offices, which overlook the lake and are connected to the new Captain's Room, dedicated to the past captains of Husky crew. The lowest level houses the men's and women's locker rooms, a spacious four-section ergometer training and team room, the shell storage bays that currently hold 75 boats and the docks.
While most of the original crew house was gutted, several of the concrete slabs and rebar remain from the former Conibear Shellhouse. Husky men's crew coach Bob Ernst appreciates the fact that while the building is new, some of the tradition remains.
"There is spirit in this building," said Ernst. "The guys and gals who worked on this project, this was a crusade for them. I cannot imagine it ever turning out better than it really did. It was the most spirited and fun project that I've ever seen and that I could ever imagine."
The shellhouse will not only serve as headquarters for the crew program, but it will also serve the over 700 UW student-athletes as home to all academic services and student-athlete dining. Under the watchful eyes of Miller-Hull architects and the masterful craftsmanship of Sellen Construction, all Husky athletes will be able to enjoy the top-notch, state-of-the art facilities to enhance their collegiate experience.
On the main floor, the expanded computer laboratory has 36 computers for student athletes to utilize, up from the 12 currently available via student-athlete academic services (SAAS). Across the hall, there is a tiered floor auditorium with teaching space for 44 students. Just outside the auditorium is the comfortable Higgins Lounge where student-athletes can socialize or catch a game on the large-screened television.
A few steps away from the lounge is the centerpiece of the renovated crew house, the new dining hall, with room to accommodate 250-plus student-athletes, and featuring 18-foot floor-to-ceiling windows with water views. There are three flat screen televisions hanging from the walls for all to enjoy and also wireless internet capabilities for those who want to surf the web while dining. Connected to the dining hall is a 2,500 square-foot deck that spans the entire east wing of the building and boasts breathtaking views of Lake Washington.
Hanging from the ceiling of the dining area is the shell that the Huskies' varsity eight, representing the United States, rowed to a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The top floor houses the offices of the SAAS staff, numerous tutorial study rooms and cubicles that allow student athletes to study in a serene setting. SAAS now has 9,500 square feet of space to conduct its business after being cramped into several offices inside Graves Hall.
The facility has no equal in the country and students-athletes and other visitor who have viewed the newly-opened Conibear Shellhouse couldn't agree more.
"I think it's an absolutely incredible facility," said men's freshman intern coach Matt Deakin, who is not only coaching at the UW but training for another shot at making the 2008 Summer Olympics. "I want to live here, I don't want to just train here."
While there are no sleeping quarters like the former shellhouse boasted, it meets almost every other need of any student athlete. Women's Crew Coach Eleanor McElvaine, sees the Conibear Shellhouse as not only a benefit to her flourishing program, but to the entire athletic department.
"It's just provides fantastic support for our athletes to be able to study and do the work they have to do in order to be successful students. They put in so much time and energy for us."
Coach Ernst echoed McElvaine's sentiments. "To have the whole athletic department here and all the tutoring, counselors and computer lab, it's going to be a fun place for the whole athletic department and it's money well spent."
Besides helping provide academic support for all the current Huskies, the new facility should help recruit future Huskies to the campus. Former Husky rower and 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Anna Mickelson feels that the sky is now the limit for Husky crew.
"This is going to be great for the future of Husky crew," said Mickelson. "I hope that the recruits would see this and want to come here and use the academic center and row out of this great boathouse. I would hope that it will be a great place for families to meet up after the races and that athletes before and after practice will have a lot of camaraderie as they hang out in the lounge."
While future generations will reap the benefits of the Conibear Shellhouse for years to come, some, like Husky coxswain Stephen Hertzfeld, are disappointed that he won't have more time to spend at the crewhouse.
"It's a huge step up from the old boathouse and it's a huge step up from where we've been the last year in the dungeons," said Hertzfeld, who is in the last year of his eligibility. "I'll only get to enjoy it for about five weeks, but this is awesome for the guys that are in the program for the upcoming years and they will really enjoy it."