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Sail Newport launches major project
By Derek Gomes
NEWPORT - Monday was a perfect day to be out on the water.
Sail Newport hopes its fundraising campaign, with a $10 million goal, gives more people throughout Aquidneck Island, Rhode Island and beyond the opportunity to experience NarragansettBay. Maintaining and promoting public access to “blue space” is a leading part of Sail Newport's mission.
Monday's ceremonial groundbreaking for a new, 8,500-square-foot education and recreation center at the nonprofit organization's home at Fort Adams State Park was a major step toward that end.
“This is a facility that has been a long time coming,” Brad Read, Sail Newport's executive director, told the dozens gathered at the site of the soon-tobe Mid-Park Marine Education and Recreation Center.
The idea for the facility, he said, was conceived in August 2008, but was put on the back burner because of the down economy.
Now that building, which is estimated to cost $5 million, could be completed by next July. Behan Bros. Inc. of Middletown was awarded the construction contract.
Read was quick to point out that the campaign is for more than constructing a building; it is to grow the organization's endowment and “break down barriers” to people's enjoyment of Rhode Island's water resources.
Sail Newport already provides free and reduced-price sailing lessons to schools and youth programs. With the facility, the opportunities will only multiply, Read said, noting that all fourth-graders in Newport public schools will learn about sailing there starting in the 2017-18 school year.
Now, the organization stops giving lessons to school groupsin the second week of October, but the building will allow Read to expand the offerings through the beginning of November.
“This will be a meaningful sailing program, not just a one-and-done lesson,” with an emphasis on water safety and learning how to sail, Read said after the ceremony. “There's nothing like showcasing the environment where these kids live.”
The two-and-a-half-story building will feature classrooms, public restrooms, showers and changing rooms, meeting and office space, and a regatta headquarters.
Among those in attendance were state and local politicians, including former Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee; Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Rep. Marvin Abney and Rep. Lauren Carson (all Democrats representing Newport); and Newport City Councilman Marco Camacho.
Paiva Weed and Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, praised the publicprivate partnership that helps preserve the natural beauty of Fort Adams State Park and gives residents recreational opportunities. Sail Newport is located on land leased through DEM, since the state owns Fort Adams State Park.
Besides benefiting state residents, the park bolsters Rhode Island's profile and helps drive its economy, Paiva Weed said.
In 2015, the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race madeits lone U.S. stop in Newport, bringing about 130,000 tourists here and pumping about $47 million into the economy, she said. The race will return to the city in 2018.
“This facility will support the demand for educational programs that Sail Newport provides on a year-round basis and provide a facility for our local sporting programs,” Paiva Weed said. “It will be an asset that will make Newport even a better destination.”
“Sail Newport is the premier public sailing facility in the United States,” said board President Steve Kirkpatrick, “and arguably the world.”