Pennies for Preservation hits first project goal

Vickie Chambers walks down the newly renovated and opened public beach access near the Coupeville Wharf. Photo by Megan Hansen/Whidbey News Group

Vickie Chambers walks down the newly renovated and opened public beach access near the Coupeville Wharf. Photo by Megan Hansen/Whidbey News Group

It took three years and thousands of coin rolls, but Pennies for Preservation reached its first project goal for the historic Coupeville Wharf.

The campaign, started in 2015 by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association and Coupeville Chamber of Commerce, slowly but surely collected thousands of dollars to repair stairs that provide public access to the beach near the wharf.

“Pennies paid for it 100 percent,” said Vickie Chambers, executive director of CHWA. “Our No. 1 goal was to get those stairs open and access to the beach.”

The stairs reopened in time for Musselfest weekend.

The Port of Coupeville initially closed the stairs in early 2014 because of safety concerns. Engineering estimates showed the issue went beyond the stairs and was connected to the port office building and bulkhead.

Initial estimates to get the stairs fixed and the beach access reopened was nearly $70,000.

Pennies was launched around a year later and was the brainchild of Chambers, who read about a similar project in a magazine.

The goal has always been to collect one-and-a-half million pennies to pay for specific projects on the wharf.

There are around 40 collection jars in businesses around town and dutiful volunteers go around regularly collecting donations and rolling them for deposit.

Last summer, volunteers created a collection box that resembled a miniature wharf building and installed it at the base of the wharf. It quickly became a popular collection point.

The campaign took a hit late last summer during the annual Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival when thieves pried open the mini wharf’s metal frame and lock and kicked over the wooden collection box.

A story ran in the Whidbey News-Times and was subsequently picked up by a regional broadcast news station. Donations started coming in from off the island.

Chambers said at least $1,000 was donated after that theft was reported.

What helped get the stairwell open this year was that the port was able to break the overall project into two parts. The stairs and railings were rebuilt, some structural issues were addressed and potential hazards from a gap between the stairs and port office building were fixed.

Cost of the first phase of the project was completed for around $6,000.

The second phase will involve pouring new concrete and addressing structural problems associated with the building. That portion of the project will be significantly more expensive, but in the meantime the stairs are open and safe to use.

And with one project down, Pennies will move on.

A new project hasn’t been identified at this point. The wharf has a number of maintenance needs including replacing the more than 120 pilings that hold it in place.

Maintenance needs at the 113-year-old wharf have previously been estimated at more than $1 million.

“We’re consistently collecting change,” Chambers said. “A specific account was established for it so Pennies go in and only go out for Pennies.”

“People should know their donations go entirely to helping the wharf. There’s no operational costs.”

For more information about Pennies for Preservation, go to Donations can be made directly through the website.

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