Islanders voice opinions on new pavilion options
More than 30 Jamestown residents gathered on Saturday afternoon to discuss replacement options for the Lt. Col. John C. Rembijas memorial pavilion, which toppled during the Feb. 2 snowstorm.
The informal, 90-minute meeting at the Jamestown Philomenian Library on Feb. 19 was the first for the Friends of Ft. Getty, an ad hoc group that hopes to gradually assume an advocacy role similar to the Friends of the Library.
Town Planner Lisa Bryer and Town Councilors Bob Bowen, Mike White and Ellen Winsor were in attendance. The meeting was held just days before an expected Council vote on replacing the pavilion. Not surprisingly, the discussions indicated a diversity of ideas for the replacement.
Although the pavilion was the focus of the discussions, there were also several references to expanded uses of the park. “As someone who goes to Ft. Getty frequently,” said moderator Mary Meagher, “and as someone who worked on the Ft. Getty Master Plan for many years, I find that the more I think about the park, the more possibilities I see.”
Similarly, Rachael Slattery said the town has “an opportunity to look at many different possibilities [for the pavilion]. Let’s dream it up. Don’t underestimate what Jamestowners are capable of.”
The pavilion was built in 1978 and named for one of its builders and principal advocates, John Rembijas. His son, Dick Rembijas, was in attendance. He expressed the view that the town should reconstruct “what was there.”
There was a roughly even split between those who prefer an identical replacement and those who suggested variations. There were also those who, like Prim Bullock, said the town would be placing “the cart before the horse” by replacing the pavilion before reaching a decision on an overall Ft. Getty plan.
But others pointed out that the town has already developed a pair of master plans: The first one issued in 1994 and the second in 2005. In fact, Frank Meyer referenced a letter from former Council President Elbert Lyons telling the park service of town efforts to “formulate a Ft. Getty Master Plan way back in 1975.”
The final master plan will be informed by the findings of a facilitated Ft. Getty workshop to review all of the options for the park. The Council plans to select a facilitator at its Feb. 22 meeting, with the workshop to follow in the middle of April.
Michael Lichtenstein was among those who felt that the design and location of the pavilion “should be considered in the context of the master plan. We could accommodate the events on the schedule [by erecting a tent] and buy some time while we figure out how the pavilion fits into the plan” for the entire park.
Meagher, who is an architect, said the reconstruction of the pavilion would take about nine months, a duration which includes engineering the design and soliciting bids as well as construction.
White observed that, because a replacement could not be built before the season starts, the town is looking into a tent. He also said, “The big picture needs to be looked at.” However, some residents warned that a tent, which would cost about $2,500 a month, would have to be taken down each time a major storm approached, thereby increasing its costs by some unknown amount.
Consequently, one resident said, each party booking a date should be responsible for the cost of a tent, or “it could end up costing the town a fortune.”
The permanent replacement, however, shouldn’t necessarily be built on the existing slab, said several residents. Phil Larson felt that the replacement should be sited near the boat ramp “for unobstructed views of the bay. You can’t see the water or the sunsets from where it is now, and we could charge more rent if the pavilion has a million-dollar view.”
Arguing that the Council should “push the envelope” in its pavilion decisions, Larson added that a relocated pavilion could serve as a point of departure for excursions to Dutch Island when, and if, the state resuscitates its Bay Island Park System.
A northern location, moreover, would allow for a straightforward bathroom installation, although there’s already a tentative plan to rebuild the campground bathroom and add another one near the gatehouse. Adding a bathroom to the current location is impractical because, among other reasons, the Coastal Resources Management Council does not allow any permanently walled structures within 200 feet of a shoreline at elevations less than 14 feet, and the pavilion sits at 7 feet.
“There’s a lot of sentiment for things like a kitchen and bathrooms at the pavilion,” said Meagher, who chaired the now-disbanded Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee. “Bathroom improvements were the most-requested improvement in our previous survey, and people who rent the pavilion have to provide their own Port-a-Johns.”
Meyer said that during the time he volunteered at Beavertail State Park, “the biggest complaint was the bathrooms, but [the Department of Environmental Management] has installed those composting toilets and they’re working beautifully.” Winsor advised the gathering that composting toilets are costly.
Winsor defended a resident’s suggestion to add solar panels to a replacement pavilion. “It wouldn’t have to cost the town anything if it were part of a study funded by an outside group like the Kaufman Foundation,” she said.
Regarding proposals, which already have traction, Meg Miles – who serves on the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation – reminded the group, “A plan for a [Ft. Getty] sailing center could be back on the table.”
Bowen responded by saying, “I ran for office saying I wanted a sailing center built; and not just for Olympic sailors, but for all kinds of activities.”
Bowen, however, didn’t indicate that he was supportive of a delay in pavilion reconstruction. When White observed that the Council “could decide not to decide” on a timetable at its Feb. 22 meeting, Bowen replied, “And we could talk about it for 20 years.”
There was only one reference to the use of the park for recreational vehicles. “We don’t know the campers,” a resident said, “and I’d like to see the park more open. Right now, it’s blocked off for the campers and the fishermen throughout the summer, and the rest of us really don’t have access to the park.”