Stetson to Break Ground on Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center this Spring

rendering Sandra Stetson Aquatic Ceter

About 20 men on the Stetson University Rowing Team carried their sleek boats to Lake Beresford for practice this week, walking past markers where a new $4.9 million aquatic center soon will rise.

rendering Sandra Stetson Aquatic Ceter
A rendering shows the new Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center along Lake Beresford.

Stetson plans to break ground in the spring of 2017 for the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center, named for a great-granddaughter of the university’s namesake, John B. Stetson. The 10,000-square-foot center will be the home for the Stetson University Rowing Teams and provide space for water research when completed by late December 2017, said Al Allen, associate vice president for Facilities Management.

Sandra Stetson donated $6 million for the project and $1.5 million of that was put into an endowment to maintain and operate the building. In addition, Volusia County awarded a $400,000 grant from the ECHO program (for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational projects) to build public restrooms and public parking on the 10-acre lakefront site, and provide a public launch for canoes and kayaks.

Stetson has leased the site at 2636 Alhambra Ave. for a decade and purchased it four years ago for its rowing teams. The men and women’s teams practice six days a week from the site, with the women’s team rowing in Lake Beresford between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and the men’s team between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., said Stetson Rowing Head Coach Mark Wilson.

The Stetson University men's rowing team practice this week on Lake Beresford.
The Stetson University men’s Rowing Team practices this week on Lake Beresford.

Currently, the teams keep their crew boats – called shells, which range from 27 feet long to 58 feet long – in a greenhouse building on the site. The new aquatic center will provide storage for up to 60 boats on the first floor, as well as house rowing machines for the teams’ daily workouts, lockers, and a recruitment area with a conference room and big-screen TVs to host prospective athletes and their families, Wilson said.

“From our standpoint, it’s going to be great,” he said. “It’s going to give us a home and elevate our exposure.”

The center also will be used for rowing competitions and as a winter training site for high school and college rowing teams from up north, he said.

The second floor will include space with a science lab for research and teaching, and for Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. A large meeting room upstairs will provide a “neutral ground” for government leaders, citizens, activist groups and others to work on solutions to complex environmental problems, said Institute Executive Director Clay Henderson.

“The Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center really does expand our horizons,” said Henderson from his office in the Sage Science Center on the DeLand campus. “We’re landlocked here.”

Last month, the Volusia County Council approved the zoning for the site and will be asked to approve the site plan in the coming month. Stetson is seeking bids from five construction firms and should select one in January. The ground breaking will take place in the spring of 2017, Allen said.

On the second floor, the aquatic center will have solid glass walls on three sides to “maximize the view,” Allen said. Visitors can step outside onto a balcony that will wrap around three sides of the building. The second-floor ceiling will be vaulted. From the exterior, the roof is designed to resemble a boat.

Outside, trails and elevated walkways will lead to the water’s edge and meander through a garden named after 18th century botanist John Bartram. Sandra Stetson has long supported botanical gardens, wetland and environmental efforts, including supporting the botanical garden in Naples, where she has a home.

Stetson women's rowing team
The sun rises as the Stetson University women’s Rowing Team practices recently on Lake Beresford. Photo by Stetson Rowing Head Coach Mark Wilson.

Along Lake Beresford, there will be docks to launch crew “shells” and a viewing platform that will overlook the lake, which connects to the St. Johns River. The building, furnishings and site work will cost $4.9 million. During construction, the rowing teams will continue to train at the site, Allen said.

The aquatic center was designed by architect Preston T. Phillips of Bridgehampton, N.Y., who was recommended to Stetson University by Sandra Stetson to design and provide the architectural and engineering for the project.

The site on Lake Beresford makes an ideal place to train for the Stetson rowing teams, Coach Wilson said. Not many power boats use the lake because the water is so shallow, there aren’t any public boat ramps there and no-wake zones are imposed for three to four miles on either side in the St. Johns River to protect manatees.

“It’s the best flat water in all of Florida,” he said.

-Cory Lancaster