Col. Benjamin Wham recalls seeing cadets sailing on the Ashley River when he studied at The Citadel in the 1980s. He remembers friends who rowed crew and the old boathouse, which seemed dated at the time.
In the decades after he left, the channel that connects the campus to the river filled with silt, and time didn’t do the boating center any favors. The college doesn’t have a rowing club anymore, and its sailing team practices at a marina downtown.
“When I was here when I was a kid, we were putting boats in the water, taking them out all the time. It was not an uncommon occurrence at the end of classes on a Wednesday to go rent a boat for $10 and take it out and go water skiing or just go enjoy yourself,” said Wham, now the college’s associate vice president for facilities and engineering. “Folks enjoyed it, and they had easy access to it.”
Now, The Citadel wants to return its cadets to a culture of being on the water, Wham said, so it’s undertaking a project costing about $3.3 million to dredge the channel and build a new boathouse.
The college finished clearing the channel last week, and it’s beginning to move forward with plans for a new, two-story boathouse.
It filed plans for new docks with the Army Corps of Engineers on June 15, and Wham said it would seek state approval for the building project this fall in hopes of finishing construction in 2018.
The Citadel also plans to knock down the old boathouse, which is nearly a century old. The school says the wooden building hasn’t been renovated since the 1970s, and Wham said it has long outlived its useful life, with deteriorating siding and a termite problem.
“The once prominent sailing and rowing programs are no longer active, and it is not even possible to launch a boat at the facility and access the Ashley River,” the college wrote in its Army Corps application. “The Citadel desires to return the cadets to a ‘culture of water.’ ”
Still, the school’s goal of reinvigorating its boating center is nothing new. The issue has been raised several times since the channel was last dredged, and when the city was considering a marina by Brittlebank Park in 2000. The Citadel’s then-president, Maj. Gen. John Grinalds, backed it, saying school facilities were only usable for a few hours a day around high tide.
“For the campus to be located next to the Ashley River and not have unrestricted access to it is difficult to comprehend,” Grinalds wrote at the time.
But now, the college has the money to bring back its river access on its own. An anonymous alumnus and his wife made “a seven-figure gift” in 2013 to revitalize the boating center, Citadel spokeswoman Kim Keelor said in an email, so The Citadel isn’t looking to tuition or state funding to finish the project.
The school is eyeing plans beyond the events and cookouts it sometimes holds at the boathouse, Wham said. It hopes to revive its rowing program, give the sailing team a new home and make it easy for biology classes to study the river.
“The Lowcountry’s got a rich environment here, and we really want to let the kids go out and enjoy that,” Wham said. “This is kind of a way to embrace that environment.”
Reach Thad Moore at (843) 937-5703 or on Twitter @thadmoore.