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New park restroom: build it and they will go

The restroom’s design will be similar to this one. The stone facade is optional.   - Courtesy of City Public Works Department
The restroom’s design will be similar to this one. The stone facade is optional.
— image credit: Courtesy of City Public Works Department

A seven-year saga of debate nears its end, as the final design is unveiled.

The long-serving porta-potties at Waterfront Park may finally end their dubious tenure this summer.

Relieving them of duty will be an unassuming new restroom facility, the designs for which debuted at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting to the applause of city staff and council.

“We’ve been waiting six years for this,” Council Chair Bill Knobloch said.

Public Works director Randy Witt reported that the design has been internally approved and the city hopes to advertise for bids in February with construction slated for the summer.

The image displayed in Council Chambers was indeed a simple-looking structure.

A block-construction building will house four unisex rooms, two with wheelchair accessible toilets and sinks, one with a regular toilet and sink and one with a shower station.

On the outside, the block walls will be hidden under colored siding with the option of a more expensive stone facade around the base.

The building’s peaked metal roof will overhang to form a sheltered entryway, supported by wood pillars. It will likely be placed at the site of the old restroom, near the boat ramp.

Perhaps most importantly, the building should squeeze into the $300,000 budget alloted by the council, project manager Chris Hammer said.

“Our direction from the council was to go get something built,” he said. “They wanted a toilet that flushed, and in a certain frame of money.”

Council members lauded the restroom’s no-frills design, and Mary Joe Briggs, who was attending her last council meeting as city administrator, said the building was attractive while still “utilitarian.”

“It’s a standard building, but it looks nice,” agreed council member Kjell Stoknes.

“Standard” and “utilitarian” were not terms used to describe some of the previous Waterfront Park restroom plans proposed after the park’s old, failing facility was torn down in 2001.

The City Council first leaned toward a prefabricated four-station design that could be built for under $300,000.

But in 2005, a Seattle firm presented a “butterfly bathroom” design that would have featured sweeping roof lines, public art pieces, a covered picnic area, an events plaza and storage for rowing shells along with the obligatory toilets, sinks and showers.

The creative approach was supported by members of the arts community, but others worried it would block water views and questioned whether a restroom should be the park’s main attraction.

A later proposal developed by Winslow Tommorow planners would have buried the restroom partially under the park’s tennis courts, with storage space, an observation deck – and a $1 million bid price that proved unpalatable for the council.

In May 2007, the council rejected an $860,000 proposal and again asked staff to limit the project to $300,000 which was included in the 2008 Capital Facilities plan.

“We’ve gone back to the basics,” Hammer said. “We’re close to something we probably would have approved five years ago.”

Council member Debbie Vancil called the selection process “brutal.” Part of the problem, she said, was that designs were constantly being changed to fit the evolving Waterfront Park Master Plan.

Still, she was pleased with the new design.

“It’s a bathroom and it’s functional,” Vancil said. “It fits in a park-like setting, and this is a park.”

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