Sept. 13, 2019, marked a momentous occasion for the Girls Preparatory School 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.
GPS Head of School Autumn Graves opened the event by recalling highlights of the school’s 25-year rowing history, 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 rowing in colleges across the U.S., including Dartmouth and the University of Virginia.
“We’re grateful for the foresight of our 1945 board of trustees, which 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. Demolition of the building took place earlier in the week.
Lee Burns, McCallie headmaster, spoke about McCallie’s rowing program, which has seen more than 800 young men compete over its 29-year history, and thanked the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 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 added. “When I arrived at McCallie in 2014, Dr. Graves and I decided to explore what this unique partnership could mean.”
A committee composed of McCallie and GPS board members was formed. 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. Franklin Architects was hired and then contracted with Peterson Architects of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to design the rowing center.
Davenport was next at the lectern. 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.
Individuals who were key to the project’s success then brandished bright blue shovels and turned dirt on the site of the new rowing center.
In closing, both school’s current board chairs, Jim Ruffin of McCallie and Becca Stimson of GPS, offered brief comments.
“As a McCallie alumnus, I’m proud to say 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 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 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 high school, and that people in Chattanooga and across the Southeast will look to GPS and McCallie as examples of rowing programs that set the standard for excellence.”