History of the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center

Indoor view of two rowing tanks.

Indoor view of two rowing tanks.


The idea of an indoor rowing tank facility on the Erie Canal dates back to 1998 with the planning for the William C. Warren III Boathouse, the home of the Pittsford Crew. From the outset, the “tanks” were envisioned as a community facility. Formal design meetings began in 2000 with a committee of Dan Pope, Rick Garrett, Bill McLean, John Bowen, George Angle, Dennis Fronheiser, Jim Bodenstadt, Keith Whitcomb, and Rick and Ceil Feins. Tank facilities at Westside Rowing Club, Syracuse University, Mercyhurst College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Princeton University were visited. The building itself was designed by Warren Boathouse architect Dan Pope of Pope Architects who once again designed a building that would greatly enhance the shores of the Erie Canal. It was built by the well-known contractor Rick Garrett of the James L. Garrett Construction Co.

Unique Design Qualities

From the outset, what was to become the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center had many unique design qualities. The facility design accommodated 32 sweep rowers at a time or 24 sweep rowers and 8 scullers at a time, one of the largest tanks in the world. The building was built of decorative concrete block and special drywall to accommodate the anticipated high humidity. Space was provided to allow coaches as much access as possible to rowers to maximize the ability to teach proper rowing technique. Rowing stations were designed to be individually adjustable to allow rowers of all sizes, ages, and experience to use the facility.

Custom Made Moving Water System

One of the most unique aspects of the PIRC tank design however was the water moving system. In virtually all moving water tanks built to date, water is “pumped” around the tanks. This method has proved noisy, expensive to operate, and associated with variable water speed and turbulence. The water moving system for the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center was designed by chief engineer Bob Ferris and engineers John Bowen and Jim Oldshue who instead employed “mixing” technology. With the help of Siewert Equipment Company and Lightnin Mixing of Rochester, NY, a system of moving the water with two 38” propellers powered by 25 hp electric motors was designed. This allowed water in the tanks to be moved rapidly at fraction of the cost and with much less turbulence than in previous tank designs.


Funding was obtained with the help of Mr. Warren from the New York State Canal Corporation through the Canal Revitalization Program and through financing provided by the Pittsford Credit Union. In the fall of 2002, The Friends of Pittsford Rowing established the Friends of Pittsford Rowing Erie Canal Enhancement Program to coordinate funding for construction. In addition, significant contributions were made by Dan Pope of Pope Architects who provided the building’s design, Jim Bell of the Bell Construction Co. and John Bell of the Patrick Construction Co. who provided the concrete floor, Jeff Davis of Elmer Davis Roofing who provided the roof, Concept2 which provided the rowing stations, Vespoli USA which provided the sculling pins, Mark Cassidy who provided the paint, Domine Builders Supply which provided the cement block, and of course Rick Garrett of the James L. Garrett Construction who acted as general contractor.

Site Approval

Once plans were completed, approval was obtained from the New York State Canal Corporation and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. The site was cleared in October 2002 but a very cold winter made it wiser from an economical standpoint to wait until Spring 2003 to actually start construction. Through the spring, summer, and fall of 2003, the James L. Garrett Co. built the cement block building, which was to become the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center. The motor form Siewert and Lightnin Mixing was installed in a separate below ground motor room in November under the watchful eye of Bob Ferris in November 2003.

Volunteers In Action

Sealing of the two tanks was then completed. In addition, dozens of volunteers form the Pittsford Crew and the Greater Rochester community joined Pittsford Boatman Brad Sayer in building the indoor decking, rowing stations, and bathrooms. (A more complete list of volunteers and contributors to the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center can be found under the “Friends and Contributors” link). The volunteers also painted the inside wall with special masonry sealing paint provided through the generosity of rower Mark Cassidy. In December, the first tank was filled and the PIRC mixing system got its first trial. It is fair to say that it more than met all expectations. The individual rowing stations were designed and fashioned by Brad Sayer using the monorail, seat, and foot stretchers from Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower provided by the Concept 2 Company. These had to be specially designed since the foot stretchers on the Model D are not connected to the monorail on the Concept 2 Indoor Rower.

Debut of PIRC-the Nation's Premier Indoor Rowing Facility

The PIRC was introduced to the Pittsford Crew on December 29, 2003 as alumni from the very first Pittsford Crew hosted a reception for the present rowers. Finally, on January 12, 2004, the PIRC began operation as the University of Rochester Crew began its winter training there. The Rochester Institute of Technology Crew, Hobart-William Smith Crew, the Pittsford Crew and the Fairport Crew soon followed and the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center took its rightful place as one of the nation’s premier indoor rowing facility. Rowing in the winter had come in from the cold.

Vision Realized

Today, the Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center with its 32 rower capacity indoor tanks is available for all types of rowing programming including learn to row programs, high school and winter training, coaching education, adaptive rowing, injury rehabilitation, outreach programs, open rowing, and general technique improvement. It represents an attempt by the Friends of Pittsford Rowing to give back to a sport that has so positively influenced so many of our youth.

Image-PIRC's four rowing tanks
PIRC's four indoor rowing tanks.

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Pittsford Crew
last updated: 01 08 2012
maintained by Chris Barrett
copyright 2005-2012 Pittsford Indoor Rowing Center, all rights reserved.