Student - December 21, 2018

Operation gym - Argonauts design and build their own training loft

Luuk Zegers

Puffing and panting on the ergometer: there’s no way around it for a rower. But where is a fast-growing rowing club to put all those machines when it grows out of its old gym? A few creative members of Argo rolled up their sleeves to build their own new training loft.

Koen van Niekerk (left) and Bas Beerkens in ‘their’ new training loft. ‘We really wanted to achieve something. I think we managed.’ Photo’s Tim den Duijf and Argo

In the last few years, student rowing club Argo has grown into one of the biggest student societies in Wageningen. To be able to accommodate all its members, the club invested in a new building six years ago. But not enough thought was given to the indoor training facilities: it was getting more and more crowded in the old gym in the small loft in the boathouse. It couldn’t go on like that, thought a bunch of Argonauts.

They set up Space to Breathe, a committee aiming to raise funds for a better training facility. Chair Bas Beerkens: ‘That was badly needed. At peak training times there were sometimes 30 people training in that small space with no insulation or ventilation. Meanwhile, the number of new members kept on growing, while there was no money for a major extension since we had only just moved into the new building.’


Rowing marathon
The costs of a new training room were estimated at 90,000 euros. ‘A lot of money,’ says Koen van Niekerk, another member of Space to Breathe. ‘So as a committee, we decided not just to raise funds but to mobilize the whole club. Then you’ve got 650 people fund-raising instead of seven. It came to about 140 euros per member. Still a lot, but more manageable.’

The crowd-funding campaigns started on 1 January 2017, organized by individual members, teams and committees, like the cooking committee, who organized a special dinner. But the nicest event was the rowing marathon, say Beerkens and Van Niekerk. ‘Our top competition team took it upon themselves to keep an ergometer running for 24 hours nonstop, on the same basis as a sponsored walk. They raised a couple of thousand euros with that one. It was such a success that it was repeated at the beginning of this year, but then with seven teams. We’ve got a new tradition now,’ laughs Van Niekerk.

An architect is quite expensive, whereas it is not that difficult at all

Building plan
The total amount raised was presented during the Argo Sprint, the last competition of the rowing season, on 30 June 2017. About 56,000 euros had been raised: a lot of money but quite a bit less than the target. But Van Niekerk had not been sitting around all that time. While other Argonauts were raising money, he looked into ways of building a good training space as cheaply as possible. ‘The simplest way was to take a good look at how the crowded training loft in the boathouse was built, and replicate it on a larger scale. That loft only took up one third of the attic space in our new boathouse, so there was enough space to extend it.’ Van Niekerk knew so much about it by now that they decided to draw up their own building plans. ‘An architect is quite expensive, whereas it’s not that difficult at all. As long as you keep it simple.’

Concrete floor
‘When the summer holiday started in 2017, we ordered eight cubic metres of concrete, and we went hard at it for a few days,’ says Van Niekerk. By ‘we’, he means the Argonauts Marten Breeuwer and Douwe de Jong – ‘handy guys with farming roots’ – and himself.  First, the lads had to lay a foundation for the steel construction that the loft would rest on. ‘Chiselling out holes, putting in the wire mesh and then the concrete. That’s how we laid the foundation. Of course we had calculated how big and thick it needed to be; you had to put that in the planning permission application too.’ A company from Ede supplied the steel frame, after which the lads got on with the carpentry.

The basic construction was up in February 2018, but there was a lot still to be done. Electricity, insulation, paint on the walls, a floor. Team Space to Breathe agreed that the new training space had to be ready before the AID 2018. They put in the electric wiring with the help of an ex-Argonaut who had done it before, the wall of the original loft was taken down and reused, stairs were built, a floor was laid, and so on.

mooie bouwfotoSteven ten Hoff.jpg

Pig shed
The Argonauts are particularly proud of their new and sustainable ventilation system, in which the heat from the extracted air is used to heat up fresh air from outside. WUR expertise was used in choosing this system, explains Van Niekerk, laughing. ‘Marten is studying Agrotechnology. For one of his courses he had to calculate the ventilation capacity of pig and chicken sheds. With that theory as a basis, we did the sums in Excel, and we showed them to an installation company. They agreed and then installed it for us.’

In October 2018, two years after Beerkens and Van Niekerk suggested expanding the training capacity, the new loft was ceremonially opened. The final result – which the Argonauts call the ‘high-rise’ – is three times the size of the old training loft and contains a lot more ergometers, spinning bikes and weight-training apparatus. ‘At the opening, an honorary member who is active in the rowing community throughout the Netherlands said this was the best indoor training facility in the country,’ says Van Niekerk proudly. Beerkens adds, ‘We wanted to achieve something. I think we managed.’

Student achievements 2018

December is the time to look back on the year gone by. On over the coming weeks, we shall look at the biggest, most beautiful, most important and most unusual student achievements of 2018. From the greening of Ceres to the GNSK’s sporting achievements. Keep an eye on the website during the Christmas holiday.