Aquinnah is making a final fundraising push before beginning construction on a new playground.
The town has gathered $225,000 of its $264,000 goal for the playground, which is slated to begin its first phase of construction in October and be completed by early November.
Aquinnah Park & Recreation Committee member Jamie Vanderhoop said this was a project 20 years in the making. “A lot of people have worked on this for a long time,” Vanderhoop said, who joined the effort around 10 years ago.
While Aquinnah has a playground next to the town’s fire station, Vanderhoop said the community determined that an upgraded playground in a better location was needed.
The town began working with the Conway School of Landscape Design to plan a village center for Aquinnah, which includes the playground, a “food forest,” and the Aquinnah Town Center Apartments that recently held a groundbreaking ceremony.
“The pandemic happened, and a lot of these community meetings took place over Zoom, discussing what everyone’s hopes and dreams for this parcel … behind town hall,” Vanderhoop said. “What came out of those community meetings with the design from the Conway School was [the] food forest, a playground, and [affordable housing units].”
While the COVID pandemic slowed down the process, Vanderhoop said the time allowed the community to thoroughly determine what direction to take the project.
Vanderhoop also pointed to the “huge boom” in children in Aquinnah regarding the need for an improved playground.
“I think there’s close to a hundred young children right now under the age of 13,” she said, adding that a playground needed to be planned separately since Aquinnah is the only town on the Island without a school. “Our kids are really great at playing in nature and playing on the beach. We have nature’s playground all around us. We’re so fortunate for where we live, but we really wanted to have this imaginative play space like they do in other communities: a place in the community for families and community members of all ages to meet and socialize.”
Aquinnah is working with Leathers & Associates, the company that built the playground in Oak Bluffs’ Niantic Park, for the future Up-Island play space.
“They did a Zoom planning session with kids in our community, and the kids shared all of their hopes and dreams,” Vanderhoop said. “So, it’s a custom playground built on what the kids want.”
Vanderhoop also underscored that this playground will be a valuable addition to the Island community.
“I’m a mom of four, and I understand how the cost of living on this Island is really, really high,” she said. “I envision that parents from down-Island are gonna make a day trip and come up here and picnic and people having social gatherings here. It’s not just for Aquinnah. It’s going to be … utilized [Island-wide] by families and that really makes me excited to have another affordable option for families for recreation here on the Vineyard.”
A lot of support has come in for the playground, such as from the Aquinnah Community Preservation Committee and the West Chop Community Fund, according to Vanderhoop. She said a second phase to the construction is possible down the road, during which another fundraising effort would be made.
Among the current possible cost saving measures, the town is hoping some people will donate housing for up to six workers on-Island for a couple of weeks during the building process, according to Vanderhoop.
Vanderhoop said contributions of any amount are welcome, from volunteering, spreading word about the fundraising effort, to monetary donations.
“That’s the spirit that we’re trying to get,” she said. “It’s everybody’s playground and everyone’s involved.”
For those who want to donate to the development of a new playground in Aquinnah, a check can be dropped off at Aquinnah Town Hall made payable to “Town of Aquinnah” and “playground” on the memo line. If sending a check by mail, use the address 955 State Road Aquinnah, MA 02535.