Coast Guard presents revised plan for Menemsha Boathouse

The newest design of the Station Menemsha boathouse.
Photo courtesy of USCG

The newest design of the Station Menemsha boathouse.

U.S. Coast Guard officials Tuesday held a conference call with Chilmark selectmen and town officials to discuss revisions to the design of a new $10 million Station Menemsha boathouse.

The Coast Guard described reductions to the height, length, and interior space of the boathouse and other design adjustments made in response to concerns Chilmark officials and residents expressed at a public meeting on October 25.

Coast Guard officials plan to hold one more public meeting in Chilmark that will be more informational in nature. “We are pretty much there in terms of what we can do to accommodate the town without compromising our mission,” Francis Brito, a civilian engineer and supervisor of the Seattle based Facilities Design and Construction Center (FDCC) detachment, explained.

However, the revised design presented Tuesday did not satisfy Chilmark selectmen, who continue to suggest that the boathouse be approximately the same size as the landmark red roof structure destroyed in a devastating fire on July 12, 2010 it is intended to replace.

From the beginning of the design process, Coast Guard officials have said they would do what they could to assuage community concerns, but they have also emphasized that the new building must be built to meet the demands of the next 50 years, not the last 50, for a mission area that extends well offshore and encompasses New Bedford and its large commercial fishing fleet.

In a press telephone call following the conference call with selectmen, Mr. Brito said the revised design was based on the comments received at the October 25 meeting in the Chilmark.

“We made concerted efforts to both address the building needs from the historical standpoint,” he said, “as well as ensure the Coast Guard is in a position to satisfy her mission needs from the boathouse for the future.”

The old boathouse was 28 feet at its tallest, and 63 feet long. The initial draft design presented in October showed a boathouse with two floors, 34 feet, 11 inches at its highest point and 78 feet long.

The revised design shows a boathouse 6 feet, 6 inches longer, two feet, 11 inches taller and one foot narrower than the original boathouse built in 1939.

“We have increased the length by a mere ten percent and the height by a mere ten percent even though we are working with boats that are larger and more sophisticated,” Mr. Brito said. “This was done by really fine tuning the programmatic requirements of the boathouse, as well as making some structural changes.”

For example, he said, the Coast Guard went to a more expensive framing system and adjusted the roof pitch. The new windows and the dormers will also be more in keeping with the historic building’s design and architecture. Lighting was also adjusted to minimize light “spillage,” he said.

Programmatic changes included eliminating some office space on the second floor and reducing the size of the women’s toilet and locker room. The space allocated to mechanical needs was also reduced. In total, it will provide 4,970 square feet of space.

On one side of the building there will be a double-height boat bay with 14-foot doors, which can accommodate a larger boat. A new boat ramp leads directly into the service bay.

The building will be painted white with red shingles, and it will largely look the same as the old boathouse.

Mr. Brito said the design team would continue to look for ways to reduce the height as the project moves through the design and construction phase. He added, “I don’t believe we are ever going to satisfy everybody.”

“I think the project team has done a really good job of trying to look for efficiencies and balance in Coast Guard mission needs for the station, as well as the community concerns,” Captain George Bonner, FDCC commanding officer, based in Norfolk, said. “I think that is the solution we have got now, a balance of all these needs.”

Assuming all needed approvals are in place and Congress approves a budget, the Coast Guard expects to begin the design and construction bid process this spring and award a contract in June. Mr. Brito said he expects construction to take between 18 and 24 months.

“We know we can do it quicker,” he said, “but we also recognize that there are environmental considerations, and we want to be sensitive to how the harbor is used as we set up our construction schedule.”

The addition of a new floating pier intended to accommodate the 25-foot trailerable rigid hull inflatable, now moored on one side of the existing dock that accommodates the 47-foot motor lifeboat, continues to concern selectmen but is unrelated to the boathouse design process, Mr. Brito said. The boathouse is scheduled to receive a second motor lifeboat, the workhorse of the life saving fleet, in 2014.

False reality

In comments following Tuesday’s conference call, selectman Jonathan Mayhew, a commercial fisherman, continued to question the new design. “I like the original structure,” Mr. Mayhew told The Times in a telephone conversation. “I don’t think this needs to be any bigger, and they don’t feel that way. Part of the problem is, we are dealing with government agencies and an architect who has been advised to make it this size.”

Mr. Mayhew said the Coast Guard might be better off spending their money on expanding their air search and rescue operations.

“They are talking about a $10 million boathouse – that costs more than our town hall, library and school. They should not forget this is where we live, and in my personal opinion they are making a false reality when they say they need a bigger space then they really do.

“The town of Chilmark really wants to have a say in its government. After all, it’s a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Let’s not forget that,” he said.

Chairman Frank Fenner said he appreciated the effort but was still not satisfied with the height. “They did a good job making some changes,” he said. “But for me the real issue is still the height. They brought it down about three feet, which is terrific, but it’s still three feet taller than the older building, and that’s a problem.”

Mr. Fenner said the architects could make changes that would allow the height of the building to be decreased and still have plenty of space for boat storage, offices and storage of other equipment.

He said the size of the proposed boathouse was out of character with Menemsha harbor. “It’s the most commanding building on our harbor; it sets the tone of the whole harbor. So, it is really important to us that the size is in context with the harbor – which is small to begin with. The massiveness of this worries me,” he said.

Mr. Fenner said both sides should work toward a solution everyone can get behind.”We all exist in this harbor. It’s not the Coast Guard’s harbor, and it’s not completely Chilmark’s harbor. It’s a shared harbor. And once they build this, it’s there forever. We have to live with it,” he said.

Menemsha Station Chief Jason Olsen also participated in Tuesday’s conference call with selectmen. “I think the call went well,” he said, “especially with the historical folks.”