Stetson University’s rowing teams and its environmental institute have a new, $7 million home on the western shore of Lake Beresford, west of DeLand.
School officials hosted a ribbon-cutting Feb. 14 for the two-story Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center. Sandra Stetson, the great-granddaughter of John B. Stetson, was a major contributor to the project in 2015, and was given in return an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters that fall.
The new building will be home to Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience as well as the university’s men’s and women’s rowing teams.
It sits on a 10-acre site at 2636 Alhambra Ave., where the rowing teams have practiced and hosted competitions for many years. It is constructed primarily of poured concrete, and the green metal roof was designed to resemble the overturned hull of a ship.
The ground floor is primarily storage space for the rowing teams, while the second floor, which makes ample use of windows to offer spectacular views of the area, will house classrooms, offices, environmental-research labs and a viewing platform that overlooks the lake.
The site also includes docks for launching team-crew boats.
University President Dr. Wendy B. Libby, who announced her retirement the following day, told the invited guests the facility would allow students to do “hands-on research work, which is critical to Florida’s water-quality issues.”
She also praised Sandra Stetson, who was interested in helping create the aquatic center.
“Environmental issues are really important to her,” Libby said. “Sandra Stetson was really ahead of her time.”
The mission of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience is to promote interdisciplinary learning and research, advance policy development, develop leadership for solving challenging environmental problems, and demonstrate sustainability as a core Stetson University value, according to school officials.
Clay Henderson, the institute’s executive director, said the new home is “wonderful.”
“It’s actually going to give us a base of operations for students and research all along the St. Johns River, and particularly all of our springs,” he told a visitor at the public unveiling. “And I expect we’ll have a lot of community events out here.”
Katie Thurstin, head coach of men’s and women’s rowing, was also very pleased with the new facility.
“It’a a place for our students to call home, and a great facility in which to train,” she said. “The teams are very excited.”
Stetson Rowing was established in 1988 by two female students in conjunction with the West Volusia YMCA and a local supporter. After five years as a coed club sport, the team gained varsity status in 2003 and joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference a decade later.
In its early years, the program operated out of an old fernery with basically a pole barn for cover, Thurstin said.
“This is a very big improvement,” she said. “But the teams know a great boathouse won’t make them fast — they’ve got to work at it.”
The Aquatic Center is expected to earn Green Globe certification as an environmentally responsible building. The site also includes a botanical garden with native Florida plants and flowers and provides public trails and walkways that lead to the water’s edge, where there is public access to the lake at the end of Alhambra Avenue.