By Tad Sooter
Posted February 27, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — A construction crew and volunteers put the final flourishes Wednesday on what will become Bainbridge Island’s most visible park.
Workers installed signs and fastened down benches along the serpentine walking boulevard above the ferry landing, while others raked gravel. All their labor was being donated, something that’s become the norm for The Waypoint project.
“Pretty much everyone has volunteered everything,” said park supporter Bruce Weiland, neatly summing up the two-year effort that brought The Waypoint into existence.
The gateway park opens Friday on a 1-acre lot wedged into the bustling southwest corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305.
The property is jointly owned by the city and Kitsap Transit and will be managed by the Bainbridge park district, but credit for the creation of the park rests largely with a committee of volunteer organizers.
The Bainbridge Island Park Task Force spearheaded the planning, funding and building of The Waypoint, transforming a vacant and contaminated property into a public amenity. Organizer Jim Chapel estimates 700 people lent time, expertise or money to the effort.
“Here’s an example, that doesn’t happen often, of an entire community coming together to make something happen,” Chapel said at the site Wednesday.
The Waypoint was a unifying project in part because it addressed a glaring need. The property is located at one of the island’s busiest intersections and across the street from the new Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, now in the final phase of construction. Yet the high-profile property sat vacant since a gas station closed on the site in 1989.
The property gathered weeds. A chain-link fence around the lot was used to hang banners and painted signs. Ideas for development were floated and sunk over the years.
In the meantime, nearly every island resident and visitor to Bainbridge passed by the lot while traveling to and from the ferry. What they saw was a “postindustrial eyesore,” Weiland said.
“It was already the gateway anyway,” he said. “It was just ugly.”
That thought ran through Chapel’s mind in 2011 when he became stuck in traffic while driving off the ferry and had a few minutes to revel in the ungainliness of the property. The longtime islander decided to pitch the idea of a gateway park to the City Council and recruited the help of Bainbridge Island Museum of Art board member Steve Davis. Chapel and Davis secured the blessing of the city to explore options and joined with Weiland to create the park task force. The city gave the group two clear directives from the start.
“They said, you can’t cost us money and you can’t do anything environmentally harmful,” Weiland recalled.
The second directive proved trickiest. Fuel leaks from the Unocal gas station left contamination soaked into the soil below the property. Unocal hauled away 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and capped the site with clean fill but testing showed some petroleum chemicals remained. The state Department of Ecology added the property to its hazardous site register in 2008.
Scientists and community members were concerned contamination from the site was leaching into an adjacent creek and Eagle Harbor, and worried construction could stir up contaminants locked underground.
The park plan earned official approval from the City Council and Kitsap Transit board in early 2012, only after the agencies were convinced it could be built without significant excavation. The effort received a boost when a series of groundwater tests in 2012 showed contaminants were declining and not migrating off the site. The city and Kitsap Transit have agreed to continue testing in 2013.
The park task force enjoyed a groundswell of support from islanders from the beginning of the effort. The group quickly swelled to 60 members and a series of public planning meetings were well attended. The Bainbridge Rotary signed on to manage the project and renowned island architect Johnpaul Jones volunteered to design the park.
Fundraising also was a grass-roots effort. Rotary launched the campaign with an $80,000 grant, and other large donations, combined with more than 500 individual contributions, fleshed out the $360,000 project budget. A large sign at The Waypoint will recognize donors.
Chapel estimates the project received another $170,000 in labor and services. PHC Construction and other contractors donated labor and equipment, while island groups like the park district and Bainbridge Historical Museum offered support. Bloedel Reserve sent down a squad of volunteer landscapers to install plantings on four occasions, devoting 500 work hours to the site.
“And that’s just what one group did,” Chapel said.
Construction began in September and continued through the winter. The completed park features a broad walking corridor and a curved stone wall, surrounded by raised landscaping. Historical signs, benches and lighting punctuate the walkway.
Jones said managing expectations given the constraints of the property was the most difficult part of the design.
“There were a lot of demands on that site,” Jones said during a recent interview, adding the key was to keep the vision simple. “It’s a welcoming place, it’s not a park.”
Kitsap Transit board member and City Councilwoman Anne Blair said The Waypoint reflects the inclusive effort behind its creation.
“It’s a place that makes tangible the welcoming spirit that exists in the community,” she said.
WHAT: Grand opening
WHEN: 11:20 a.m. Friday
WHERE: The Waypoint at Highway 305 and Winslow Way