Proposal Unveiled for Buildings at Easton’s Beach

Easton’s Beach may soon look very different. A preliminary proposal to overhaul the beach and its facilities, including the carousel, snack bar and rotunda buildings, was unveiled at a public workshop with the Newport City Council on Oct. 19.

The estimated $35 million concept would demolish the carousel and snack bar buildings and replace them with a pair of elevated, two-story buildings that would connect via a raised walkway. It would also add beach-grass dunes along the coastline at the west parking lot and call for annual sand replenishment to preserve the beach. The new design is estimated to take about 42 months to construct.

“The condition of those two buildings was such that repairing them would be quite expensive, and it would probably make more sense to build new buildings that are more resilient to the climate changes that we’re experiencing now,” said Martha Werenfels, senior principal at DBVW Architects, a Providence firm contracted by the city to study the facilities and propose solutions.

The existing catwalk would also come down, though the entry promenade would be unaltered. No changes to the cabana and restroom section are proposed.

Snack bar and carousel services, along with public restrooms and a space for lifeguards, would be housed on the upper levels of the new buildings. The first floors, which would be subject to expected flooding, would be used mostly for storage and public seating.

Werenfels showed a flyover video animation that provided the full scope of the envisioned design as a rendering. The video seemed to land well with those in attendance. However, city manager Joe Nicholson issued a word of caution about the price tag.

“The number is $30 to $35 million for what you saw up there,” he said. “When you saw the flyover, I’m sure everyone had a smile on their face and thought it looked great, but now I’m kind of taking the smile off a lot of faces, because that is a tough nut for anyone to crack.

“You have to think about priorities, you have to drill it down, you have to think about how this project is going to go forward,” he said. “You have to always consider the cost.”

Extensive structural and water infiltration issues were found in the snack bar and carousel buildings as part of the study. The rotunda building, estimated to be built in the 1930s, is in the best condition of the three structures, Werenfels said, and it could be preserved.

“The multifaceted sides of the building actually help to reduce wind and wave impact,” she said. “For the 1930s, I really believe they were thinking about resiliency and thinking about the high exposure of this site.”

DBVW worked alongside Fuss & O’Neill, an environmental engineering firm, to incorporate the resiliency components of the concept into the overall proposal, such as the dunes and sand nourishment. The preliminary design also proposed exterior features, such as a wave wall, a small section of stadium seating for an event space, a playground, tables, benches, a footbath and additional landscaping.

“The amenity spaces are still there around the facility, similar to what you have today,” said Beth Kirmmse, project manager at Fuss & O’Neill. “The wave wall piece could be used for stadium seating, for families to gather on, for events, for picnics or play . . . There are many ways of manipulating these resilient structures so that it becomes an occupiable space rather than a barrier.”

To incorporate the dunes into the beach, the concept calls for the reconfiguration of the west parking lot, which would ultimately add a few parking spaces. Save the Bay’s existing dune and grass plantings on the west end have helped deter erosion in that area of the beach, Kirmmse said.

“That dune is helping to build the beach,” she said. “When we saw this, we thought that was a very promising beacon toward the solution that we would like to suggest for the beach in the future.”

The other dunes, totaling about 75 feet from the west to the facility area, would build off the Save the Bay dune.

According to a vulnerability test conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, along with FEMA flood plain maps, the beach will see five feet of sea-level rise by 2070. Lara Sup, a climate and flood resilience engineer at Fuss & O’Neill, said there is a 2 percent chance annually for the area to flood. By 2030, there would be a 10 percent annual chance for a storm event that would affect the buildings, and by 2070, there would be a 50-to-100 percent chance for flooding to occur every year, she said.

“We’re dealing with climate change in sea-level rise, increased flooding frequency, increased storm events, and the shoreline is pushing closer and closer to the buildings themselves,” Sup said.

“The beach will be gone by 2070 [if nothing is done],” Kirmmse said.

Although proposed to mitigate impacts of storm surge and flooding, the resiliency-based features would not deter ocean views when standing in front of the new buildings, Kirmmse said. Those arriving at the beach would be able to see the water, she added.

The design was inspired by historic Newport, Werenfels said, and drew reference from local and regional architecture, such as former shingle-style buildings at the beach that have since been demolished, and the Narragansett casino, the only portion of which remains is the Towers over Ocean Road, another Rhode Island landmark.

“Easton’s Beach is incredibly important to Newport,” Werenfels said. “Easton’s Beach is a gateway, it’s very visible and it’s one of the many portions of Newport that visitors come to on a regular basis. In our opinion, this needs to be a special place that reflects that.”

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