September 13, 2019 marked a momentous occasion for the GPS and McCallie rowing programs. Heads of both schools along with trustees and other school officials ceremoniously turned dirt at the location of the new rowing center that will house both GPS and McCallie programs.
Dr. Autumn A. Graves, GPS Head of School, opened the event by recalling some of the highlights of the school’s 25-year rowing history, the first girls’ varsity program in Chattanooga, including the signing of 24 girls to go on to row in college.
A current GPS senior has verbally committed to row for Duke in 2020, and five from the Class of 2019 are currently rowing in colleges across the U.S., including Dartmouth and the University of Virginia.
“Today we are so grateful for the foresight of our 1945 Board of Trustees that purchased the tract of land above us and later acquired this valuable riverfront property,” Graves said.
The ceremony took place on the foundation of what was once the GPS Visions Center, a building constructed in 2000 that housed the school’s rowing program as well as meeting space for events. Demolition of the building took place earlier in the week.
Lee Burns, McCallie Headmaster, spoke next about McCallie’s rowing program, which has seen more than 800 young men compete over its 29-year history, and thanked UTC for allowing the boys to launch from “the barge” for years.
In 2012, McCallie’s former headmaster, Kirk Walker, worked with Elliott Davenport and other McCallie board members to find a location along the Tennessee River to build a rowing center for the school’s team.
The requirements for the building included easy river access and a reasonable driving distance from McCallie. Eventually conversations began about building off the strong coordinate program already in place between them and their sister school, GPS, and housing both programs under one roof.
“The McCallie and GPS Crew teams had traveled to many regattas and competitions together, and this seemed to be a natural opportunity,” Burns said. “When I arrived at McCallie in the summer of 2014, and simultaneously Dr. Graves was beginning her tenure at GPS, we decided to explore what this unique partnership could mean for two outstanding and established programs.”
A committee comprised of McCallie and GPS board members was formed and, by 2016, all committee participants were in agreement that housing both programs at GPS was a viable option.
Seed money was provided from the estate of a McCallie alumnus to begin the project; Rob Taylor then stepped down from the GPS board to avoid any conflicts of interest and used his expertise in overseeing development projects. Franklin Architects was hired and then in turn contracted with Peterson Architects of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to design the rowing center.
Davenport was next at the lectern, having already donned a blue hardhat, and spoke for both himself and fundraising campaign co-chair Glenn Morris. He expressed his gratitude to GPS for providing the ideal location along the banks of the Tennessee River and to the donors who have given $5.1 million to build the facility. “These individuals gave because they believe in the transformational impact this sport will continue to instill in the current and future young men and women of McCallie and GPS,” he said.
Then bright blue shovels were brandished by individuals key to the project’s success to turn dirt on the site of the new rowing center.
In closing, both school’s current board chairs, Jim Ruffin of McCallie and Dr. Becca Stimson of GPS, said a few brief comments, speaking on behalf of their respective boards of trustees.
“As a McCallie alumnus, I am proud to say, as we embark on our 115th academic year, that our leaders, trustees, alumni, and friends of this great school continue to rise to the occasion and meet each challenge with resolve,” Ruffin said.
Stimson said the new building presents an opportunity for the students from both schools to work together in a coed community that extends beyond their current coordinate programs. “We anticipate the student-athletes will encourage each other and challenge each other in ways that benefit both teams,” she said.
“Our hope is this Rowing Center opens more doors for each of them should they choose to compete beyond their high school teams. And that people in Chattanooga and across the Southeast will look to GPS and McCallie as true examples of rowing programs that set the standard for excellence.”