SSA cuts ribbon on new Oak Bluffs terminal

The Steamship Authority officially opened the new Oak Bluffs terminal yesterday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Gray, overcast skies did little to dampen the enthusiasm of well-wishers and local Island officials for the design and features of the new facility that will welcome boatline passengers when seasonal service begins today.

An expanded vehicle staging area, an enlarged cedar timber framed passenger walkway, new restrooms, and a ticket terminal designed with distinct Victorian elements and topped with a weather vane built by artist Anthony Holand of Tisbury are the most visible elements of a project that began with discussions in 1997 and was completed in three winter phases beginning in September 2007.

The timber frame walkway was built with cedar from Oregon. A network of pipes running under the roof that will shield passengers from the elements appeared to be more a metal sculpture than a fire suppression system.

Carl Walker was smiling. “I’m very happy,” he said. He had plenty to smile about.

Mr. Walker is SSA director of engineering and maintenance. In addition to the normal challenges that come with building and permitting in a marine environment, when the project began this winter the previously existing terminal foundation and bulkhead collapsed requiring new structures to be built.

The project timeline was set back one month but work crews redoubled their efforts to get back on schedule and open on today’s scheduled date.

Against the sound of rolling waves driven by a northeast wind, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, began the official ceremonies with brief remarks in which he thanked the many people responsible for the project and noted more than $5 million received in federal grants for the cost of the project.

Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the Island’s appointed steamship member, and Duncan Ross, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, followed Mr. Lamson to the podium.

Mr. Ross said the new terminal blended perfectly with the surrounding architecture and recent downtown roadway improvements. “This is going to be the most pedestrian-friendly terminal on Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Ross said, “and my hope and prayer is that when people get off the boat here they are not going to want to leave, they are going to want to stay in Oak Bluffs.”

Architect Steven Cecil of The Cecil Group of Boston described what inspired the elements that inspired the design. Mr. Cecil said dozens of people labored to capture the spirit of fun and friendliness that a visit to Oak Bluffs evokes and was represented by buildings of an earlier era.

The design was meant to remind people of Oak Bluffs’ Victorian past, he said.

Robert Gatchell of Oak Bluffs, who retired from the SSA after 31 years, was among the crowd admiring the cedar passenger walkway. “It’s absolutely incredible compared to what was here,” Mr. Gatchell, a woodworker who specializes in Victorian design elements, said. “Compared to the skateboard ramp that was here before this is absolutely fabulous.”

Ed and MaryAnn Jerome also attended. Standing in the ticket office enjoying a sandwich from a spread provided for the public ceremony Mr. Jerome said the design appeared to be very functional. “It’s a nice room. People come in one door and go out the other,” the former school principal said. “And the food’s good too.”