SALEM — A draft master plan for Winter Island proposes the preservation and reuse of its abandoned Coast Guard hangar and barracks and the restoration of historic Fort Pickering.
The plan, which fuses together recommendations from consultants, city planning officials and the public, calls for construction of an amphitheater and performance stage and adds a continuous path around the perimeter of the park that provides access to the shore. It also reorganizes parking on the island and installs new benches, lighting and plantings.
"The layout makes a lot more sense," said Leslie Tuttle, a Parks and Recreation commissioner and member of the Winter Island Master Plan Committee.
The nearly 30-acre park has been open to the public since the early 1970s after the federal government closed its Coast Guard station and, at the urging of then-mayor Sam Zoll, turned the property over to the city. Since then it has organically evolved into a spot that hosts a variety of activities, including camping (in a tent or recreational vehicle), boating and gardening.
Though popular, the park has been deteriorating over the years and suffering from a "happenstance" layout, Mayor Kim Driscoll said.
"(The master plan) brings some order," she said.
It was developed with help from the planning and design firm The Cecil Group of Boston and Bioengineering Group of Salem. The city paid $45,000 in federal money to shepherd a process that involved three well-attended public meetings.
The fate of the decaying hangar and barracks had to be decided. Tuttle was initially in favor of demolishing the hangar, but her view changed.
"The more I learned about it the more important I thought it was to save it," she said. "It's a significant structure on the water's edge."
City Councilor Robert McCarthy, who served on the committee with Tuttle, said the hangar is a unique piece of architecture — one of only two such structures still standing in the United States.
"The good news is that they're going to be salvaged" Driscoll said, referring to the hangar and barracks. "But, obviously, it's going to take time and money."
The projected cost to rehabilitate just the barracks is $1.5 million. The city also still has to determine the best uses for the structures.
The estimated cost to implement all the proposed changes approaches $8 million. But having a focused plan, a "unifying design that people can rally around," will assist the city in attracting state and federal funding, according to Driscoll.
In the short term, there are multiple lower-cost items Salem might be able to address — $15,000 for a kayak dock or $50,000 to relocate and improve the bathhouse, for example. The plan suggests the relocation of a "tot lot" at the park could be handled by volunteers.
The plan imagines guided tours and formalized interpretive trails at Fort Pickering, which guarded Salem Harbor as far back as the 17th century. It also restores the lighthouse and leaves open the possibility of a wind turbine on the island.
The plan, which is expected to be finalized next month, is available through the Planning and Community Development Department's Web page on Salem.com.