By Douglas Feiden
It will probably be the most fanciful and original whaling vessel ever to berth in Sag Harbor. The craft can be boarded by climbing a rock or ladder and disembarked by sliding down a fire pole.
Adorned with a “giant, twisty slide and coil climber,” it will also feature a “triple-wavy-straight-bumpy slide.” And just for good measure, its bow will be outfitted with a classic East End windmill.
Don’t expect to find blubber spades on deck, or barrels of sperm oil and chests of whalebone in her hold. In fact, the only precious cargo on board is likely to be the frolicking children of Sag Harbor.
At least they won’t get seasick: The landlocked whaleboat is really a custom-made piece of play equipment that’s being designed as part of the transformation of a park space which has been central to village life for more than a century.
The beloved if timeworn playground at Mashashimuet Park is being redesigned, redeveloped and reinvented, and the 425 students at Sag Harbor Elementary School played a foundational role in forging that vision.
Since the play space’s most loyal patrons are between 5 and 12 years old, the nonprofit stewards of the privately owned park turned to the school’s kindergarten through fifth graders to gather design ideas, concepts, talking points, letters, drawings and other input needed to craft a custom recreation area.
“There is no other park like it, and the kids were full of ideas for some very, very imaginative creations,” said Janine Rayano, vice president of the Parks and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, which manages the park and its oddly shaped, asymmetrical, 1-acre playground, which has been in continuous use since 1908.
Indeed, the village’s tiniest minds went into overdrive on March 29 when Mashashimuet officials and Leathers & Associates, a well-known creator of custom-designed playgrounds nationwide, teamed up with the school to host “Design Day,” in which the kids sketched out their dreams for a fantasy park.
“Whatever the hot movie of the time was, the kids wanted to incorporate it, so you saw a lot of ‘Star Wars’ in their drawings,” said Gregg Schiavoni, president of the park association board.
Ideas included laser beams shooting out of the swings, waterfalls, a swimming pool, rollercoaster, movie theater, bowling alley, ice-skating rink, pirate ships, water-spraying monkey bars and zip line overtopping the park. A tunnel with scary ghosts and skeletons was proposed by first-grader Logan Tarlow, while his classmate, Isla McLean, wanted a tunnel with a glow-in-the-dark-dragon.
Designers from Leathers, an Ithaca-based firm whose work has been featured on child-oriented TV shows like “Sesame Street” and “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” branded those concepts “very cool,” although they didn’t make it into the preliminary design sketch that’s being released today. [FOR WEB: Thursday, May 12.]
But the nautical theme and whaling motif, which was broached on Design Day as one of the elements that makes the village special, became a centerpiece of the schematic plan that Leathers put together after huddling with the children.
“Many of the kids mentioned life around the sea, and some of them mentioned whaling in our discussions,” said Matt Malone, the school’s principal.
“Our third graders study the history of the whaling industry and how the economy of village has changed over time as part of their local history curriculum, and they’re going to be very excited to see how some of their ideas led directly to this wonderful design.”
Take that quirky Sag Harbor whaler, for instance. Directly on its port side is a whale-shaped structure — complete with “blowhole, climber, net and tunnel” — that presents its fluke to the boat as it seemingly swims away, design plans show.
Not far from its starboard side are a “springing whale” and a “springing dolphin,” rocking toys that appear to be maritime versions of such rusty, vintage park staples as the rocking horse, rocking chicken and springing lion.
“The majority of these designs came directly from the kids and the drawings they created at the brainstorming session,” said Kyle Cundy, project manager for Leathers.
They don’t come cheap. The park association estimates the design-and-build tab for a new playground will range from $300,000 to $600,000. It’s hoping to secure donations of labor, goods and materials that could pare costs significantly.
Sag Harbor Girl Scout Troop 152 is already pitching in, says Jen Glass, the troop’s leader. The nine sixth-grade girls raised $4,700 in a buy-a-brick program to support the park, and they’re using most of the funds to buy a “Flywheel stand-up spinner.”
“It’s a safer, smaller, modern-day version of a maypole, which the park had in the 1950s and 1960s,” Ms. Glass said. “It will bring back old memories for many Sag Harbor locals.”
Meanwhile, the park board is reviewing the design sketch, and members say they may ask Leathers to tinker with it a bit, possibly removing a proposed “trampoline net” that could pose an insurance and safety risk.
They expect to kick off a fundraising campaign, a rare step for the park association, and rally community support, tentatively by mid-June when the final plan is released.
“People have been asking, ‘How can I help?’ or ‘What can I do?’” said Ms. Rayano. “Well, those days are coming.”
Adds Jeff Robinson, Mashashimuet’s park manager, “There will be a new sense of ownership — and people will fall in love with the park all over again.”