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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Dr. Autumn Graves, head of Girls Preparatory School, speaks Friday at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the GPS*McCallie Rowing Center, September 13, 2019. The center will be located between the GPS soccer complex and the Heritage Landing residential development on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.
some text Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Dr. Autumn Graves, head of Girls Preparatory School, speaks Friday at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the GPS*McCallie Rowing Center, September 13, 2019. The center will be located between the GPS soccer complex and the Heritage Landing residential development on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.

Two of Chattanooga's legacy private schools are celebrating a new partnership, years in the making.

Members of the Girls Preparatory School and McCallie School communities broke ground on a new $5.1 million rowing center that will serve both schools' programs Friday.

The facility will be located on the north shore of the Tennessee River, near GPS' existing lower field facilities close to downtown Chattanooga. The center is expected to be completed by 2020, and GPS Head of School Autumn Graves hopes it will be an asset for the entire Chattanooga community.

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Joint rowing center

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"As we anticipate the completion of the new building, we also look forward to growing our rowing program that will include this partnership with McCallie and the hope to embrace the greater Chattanooga rowing community that offers a location for rowers of all ages and abilities."

McCallie Headmaster Lee Burns echoed Graves.

"Today the dream of opening a new rowing facility has finally become a reality," Burns said. "We are excited today to launch the building of a world-class rowing facility that will transform the already successful programs at McCallie and GPS, and provide the opportunity to build an even stronger partnership with the broader Chattanooga rowing community."

The center will replace the current GPS boathouse and include separate locker rooms for both schools' programs, office space for coaches, storage for both schools' rowing shells, ergonomic machines and other equipment. A new dock is already in place at the water's edge, according to a news release.

Both schools have had varsity rowing teams since the 1990s. GPS now has about 40 girls who participate in the school's program, and McCallie has 70 boys in its own program.

For years, McCallie has had a lease agreement with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and launched from a barge on the south shore of the river near UTC's campus, but varsity head coach Sean McCourt said it wasn't fit for the team.

"I think this is great, not just for the boys, but for everyone involved. I'm speechless at the moment. It's a tremendous opportunity," McCourt said.

The center is made possible in part by a fundraising campaign headed by McCallie alumnus Elliott Davenport.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Davenport said he hoped the collaborative partnership born from this shared program will foreshadow future endeavors for both schools.

"In forging this partnership with GPS, we hope that it won't be a novel thing we share resources, reduce costs and create a better program," Davenport, co-chairman of the fundraising campaign that launched in 2012, said. "We hope this will be a good prediction of things to come."

Both GPS and McCallie have established national reputations among college preparatory schools' rowing programs. Many of the schools' graduates have received scholarships to row at top colleges and universities across the nation, including Ivy League colleges and even the United States Naval Academy.

Both schools also play a significant part in the annual Head of the Hooch Regatta, one of the largest rowing events in the country, which is held in downtown Chattanooga.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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