Mercer County Parks Commission Boathouse Project Featured in The Times of Trenton

By Mike Davis | Times of Trenton The Times, Trenton
August 27, 2014

Kevin Bannon hears it all the time.

The director of the Mercer County Park Commission has hosted plenty of interested parties who scope out the county’s boathouse at Mercer Lake in West Windsor as an event space, a place to have a birthday party or business meeting.

They are drawn to the boathouse for its views of the lake and the surrounding trees but, once they get inside, interest quickly fades.

The 35-year-old building has had consistent issues with air conditioning and, perhaps most importantly, for all the grandeur of its location, the boathouse lacks a kitchen.

“Everyone says, ‘It’s just a shame that you have a run-down building at one of the prettiest places in the whole county,’” Bannon said.

Construction is underway on a $4.9 million renovation of the boathouse that will nearly double its size while adding much-needed amenities — including the kitchen — in an effort to drum up interest from people looking for a gathering place.

“We had an outdated facility that was too small and whose infrastructure was costly to maintain,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said in a statement. “The marina at Mercer Lake is a great setting that should get more use, and the renovated boathouse will accommodate a multitude of events and serve the public well.”

And this fall or winter, the county expects to begin a public bidding process to finally hire a caterer for the boathouse, Bannon said.

The actual event space also will be significantly increased, Bannon said, enough to divide it into two rooms: One 50-person room will be able to host intimate gatherings, such as bridal showers, while a larger, 280-person room can host conferences, galas and business meetings.

At the rear of the building, facing the lake, will be a patio stretching the length of the boathouse, helping capture the beauty of the location that has brought people there in the first place.

“Without a kitchen and a room that size … It was sitting there empty so many nights that we looked into what we could possibly do to get more use out of it and serve the public better,” Bannon said.

Construction began earlier this summer on the boathouse’s ground level. D’Andrea Construction, which won the job two years ago with a $4.9 million low bid — installed new public rest rooms, grilling equipment for the public snack bar and new storage space for the Parks Commission, which rents boats and kayaks and sells tours from the building.

“Our operations have grown so much that it just wasn’t configured right,” Bannon said. Over the last few months, Parks Commission employees have worked out of an on-site trailer.

The second floor has already been demolished and construction is expected to continue over the next nine or 10 months, finishing up in time for the county to open the boathouse for reservations next summer.

“It’s a great revenue opportunity for the county but it’s a beautiful area that’s going to attract more people to our facilities,” Bannon said.

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