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A state-of-the-art facility for South Ferry: 19th century barn becomes a maintenance center

“I learned to milk a cow in this place,” said Cliff Clark, president and CEO of South Ferry.

He was standing outside the new South Ferry maintenance facility one day last week, looking at the bright, golden wood structure that keeps the form of its original purpose as a livestock barn owned by the Clark family.

The handsome structure in the woods is on Route 114, just up from the ferry dock. The new facility, even though it became functional last November, still has a rich smell of the pine that covers it’s steel frame.

After the last cow was milked, the circa 1850’s barn was used for years as an unheated space to store equipment for South Ferry, until last winter, when it was razed, and the new building built.

Mr. Clark gave a tour recently, noting that the wood from the old barn was given to an antique dealer and furniture maker in Wainscott. “It’s still living somewhere,” he said.

Ferry boats require constant maintenance, including repairing and building engines. Before the new place went up — named the Captain John F. Clark Maintenance Facility — that work was done either outside or in four cargo containers and a one-car garage.

“It’s night and day,” said Captain Michael Earley, maintenance foreman of South Ferry, comparing the present to working during an Island winter in unheated conditions and constantly moving from place to place for tools and equipment.

Captain Michael Earley, maintenance foreman of South Ferry, firing up a welding torch in the new maintenance facility. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Today, ferry craftspeople can work in comfort due to the radiant heat in the concrete floors. And here, in one place over two stories, are multiple shops for electrical work, hydraulics, welding and carpentry, among other stations.

Firing up a welding torch, Captain Earley pointed to one of the many state-of-the-art additions, such as fumes from welding going directly into a tank and then released outside as clean air.

Captain Joe Clark, chief engineer for South Ferry, downplayed his contribution to the new building, but he was cited by Cliff Clark as “the major architect and energy throughout the design and construction of the barn.”

Captain Clark said it was a team effort. “Everyone pitched in on this,” he said, and it was a credit “to the great guys who work here. It really shows in this building.”

Those who work with him feel the same about him. “As Joe says, there’s only one way to fix something — the right way,” Captain Earley said.

Captain Clark noted the quantum leap in efficiency for maintenance crews, giving an example of now being able to turn around an engine for maintenance in 12 hours.

Mr. Clark said, “We gave Joe a blank sheet of paper, so to speak. I promised him we would stretch to get as much equipment on his wish list as we could in the initial phase of the building and that we would add machines and equipment as money allowed over time.”

He added that money saved by Captain Clark and his team doing the general contracting and completing so much work in-house, South Ferry was able to get every piece of equipment requested. Mr. Clark was quick to say that the company has no intention of raising rates for ferry patrons. “There is no plan for a rate increase. There’s nothing even on the horizon,” he said, adding that the maintenance barn was “built without borrowing money.”

South Ferry building and ground manager Captain Scott Overstreet was involved in every aspect of the building. One of the greatest challenges, he said, was learning the skills of construction. “Every nail, every screw, we put in ourselves,” Captain Overstreet said. Before, when a new cabin for a boat had to be rebuilt, it was in a cramped space, and now can be done with room enough to maneuver and work.

“And we don’t have to cut wood outside in all elements,” he added.

Captain Overstreet said the contractors hired to help were essential in training the staff, and spotlighted Jason Shields for his carpentry. Almost all the contracting was done by local businesses, including Teodoru Plumbing; Marcello Masonry for all concrete work; Shelter Island Sand, Gravel & Contracting for the septic systems; Ocean Electric for electrical; Mr. Shields for carpentry; and Matt Sherman Engineering.

Captain Overstreet said all the work the crews put in is a solid investment for the future of South Ferry, and a commitment to the people who work there now and for those who will follow.