BURLINGTON — Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center (CSC) hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking event on Nov. 15, just north of Waterfront Park in Burlington. The site will be home to CSC’s new world-class waterfront campus and sailing education center, which are already under construction.
The ceremony included the announcement of two major “anchor” gifts — of $1 million each — which went a long way toward fulfilling CSC’s $5.75 million Love Your Lake Capital Campaign. These gifts, from the Pomerleau Family Foundation and from family and friends in honor of Raymond P. Sullivan, will help create The Pomerleau Community Waterfront Campus and Raymond P. Sullivan Sailing Education Center.
“It was a magical day on the waterfront — sunshine, 60 degrees, and the opportunity for us to share our enthusiasm for the announcement and groundbreaking,” said Mark Naud, executive director of CSC. “And it was amazing to have the opportunity to thank key donors — Antonio and Ernie Pomerleau, and the family and friends of Ray Sullivan, and to celebrate their commitment to raise these funds.”
Naud said the waterfront campus would include a 22,180-square-foot sailing education center featuring year-round classroom space, new boats and docks, restroom facilities, indoor storage, locker rooms, offices and maintenance facilities. Just as important, he said, the project would ensure public access, education and recreation on Lake Champlain for years to come.
While CSC still needs additional funds to reach its goal, Naud said work has begun.
“We’re actively pouring footings and foundations and getting them in. We were convinced we needed to show progress to continue to build community support, so we started construction with about 88 percent of the total goal achieved,” he said.
Malone Properties is the general contractor for what is planned as a six-month construction process. Naud said CSC might operate from its current location when programs gear up next summer, given the need for move-in details and operations training at the new facility.
“But certainly by next fall, (we’ll be) fully operational inside the building,” he said.
A community-based nonprofit organization founded in 1994, CSC’s mission is to encourage the responsible use and long-term stewardship of Lake Champlain, and to provide educational and recreational access to the lake. That mission — and the local community’s understanding of that mission — will be well served by the new campus and education center, Naud said.
“We’ve been hidden in the physical and political shadow of Moran,” said Naud. “People have trouble finding where we are and knowing all that we do. Sailing is our middle name, but we’re really an educational institution and community organizer.”
The list of programs offered at CSC is diverse: kids’ camps; adult programs; corporate outings; instructional programs; racing and watercraft rentals, including paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. Its signature programs include WAVES (water, access, vitality, education and stewardship) with a focus on protecting the lake; Leader Ship; Adaptive Watersports; Women in Wind; and Floating Classrooms.
“We served 6,200 people last year from a 1,300-square-foot windowless garage, with two porta-potties and a 20- by 40-foot tent,” Naud said. “We were at our limits. Imagine what we can do with this new facility.”
Citing Burlington’s new skatepark and the relocation and enhancement of the bike path, Naud said the new CSC is a great fit for an emerging new waterfront access point.
“I see the center as the northern bookend of Waterfront Park, and a new launching hub to access part of the urban reserve that has been so neglected for so long,” Naud said. “That’s been the scary part of the bike path, and all these improvements change how people perceive the bike path and, along with the new center, will change perceptions of lake access”
Naud noted Burlington residents passed a ballot initiative in 2014 that provided a half-million dollars in TIF funds for the project. He also cited Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s consistent support for development that ensured public access to Lake Champlain. Weinberger attended the event.
“Today marks another important milestone in the rebirth of Burlington’s northern waterfront,” Weinberger said. “The Community Sailing Center has helped so many children and adults deepen their appreciation and enjoyment of Lake Champlain over the last 20 years, despite serious space constraints and limitations. I am excited to see the Sailing Center grow into its new home and open the Lake to many more Vermonters in the years ahead. The city is proud to have been a partner in this effort. Congratulations to everyone who has made this exciting day possible.”
For Naud, the real payoff of CSC’s new campus and education center is the new connections it can build for residents — to the lake and to their community.
“CSC is the gateway to Lake Champlain for everyone in the community, the place that provides access out onto the lake and opportunities to transform perspectives about where they live,” Naud said.
An environmental attorney, Naud said, “We are a lake-based community, but too often take it for granted. It’s the single biggest thing we own — our most important resource and the economic engine for our state.” He suggested building experiential relationships to the lake through CSC could encourage new perspectives.
“This is a community waterfront campus, with a goal to get as many people out on the water, safely and having fun,” Naud said. “Get out on it, play on it and learn to love it; because if you love something, you’re going to want to learn about it. And if you learn about it, you’re probably going to want to take care of it.”
Far from an elite pastime, CSC uses sailing and other access to the water to break down barriers and make connections.
“A huge number of the kids we serve are new Americans,” he said. “It’s often their first experience with a significant body of water. They get out on (the) lake and come back on shore with a different view of where they live and how they relate to their community.”
Naud believes CSC offers everyone the chance for new perspectives.
“Standing in Waterfront Park and looking at (the) Adirondacks, or back at our city, is awesome — one of the most spectacular views in the world,” Naud said. “But actually getting out and seeing Burlington’s skyline and the Vermont vista from the lake offers a connection that says, ‘Hey, that’s where I live!’ Our center will provide that transformational community in ways no other place or organization can or will. We’ll finally have the world-class facility this world-class resource deserves.”
Read more about the business at www.communitysailingcenter.org.