New park restroom won’t be such a royal flush

Frustrated council members slash the budget to $300K, say ‘average is okay.’

It won’t be the crown jewel of Waterfront Park, but at least islanders will have a porcelain throne.

Frustrated after years of portable privies, the City Council on Wednesday scaled back plans for a new park restroom, opting for a much smaller budget and a likely bare-bones design.

“I’m not talking about a masterpiece,” said Councilman Bob Scales. “But we need to go from Port-o-Potties to toilets that flush.”

The council rejected a restroom construction bid that would have cost over $860,000, and directed city staff to work instead within a $300,000 budget.

“It’ll probably (buy) a modest restroom, like restrooms in state parks,” said Public Works Director Randy Witt. “Maybe made of cinderblocks or wood. Nothing fancy, just practical.”

Witt estimates he’ll likely have the bathroom’s design completed this year, with construction sometime next year. Although the council has asked for no new public input, Witt predicts that the project will draw a substantial comment, which could delay construction further.

The city has for over six years wrangled with various visions, designs and budgets after the previous decades-old restroom was shut down in 2001 and later demolished. Subsequent replacement proposals called for much more than the basic sink-and-toilet design the city will likely now settle for.

In 2005, the City Council approved a $225,000 prefabricated bathroom with at least four toilets and two showers.

But later that year, a Seattle architectural firm and community arts advocates crafted a counterproposal commonly referred to as the “butterfly bathroom.” With an expansive wing-like roof design, the facility would have included showers, storage for rowing shells, a covered picnic area, public art, an open events plaza and possibly a grassy amphitheater.

While some said the design better exemplified the Bainbridge aesthetic, a few said the building would block water views and others disliked making a restroom the park’s centerpiece.

Winslow Tomorrow planning then unveiled a design that sunk the restroom partially underground and featured an observation deck, showers, storage and “earth-friendly” features such as natural lighting and ventilation.

A modified design with an aggressive construction timetable drew only one bid earlier this year. But, at $1.012 million – double what the city was willing to pay – the bid was rejected by the council.

The latest round of bids also were too high, the council said. The decision to send the project back to the drawing board was an attempt to get it past its “tortured history,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee.

But some citizens are concerned that the allotted budget will do too little.

Winslow resident Debbie Lester asked the council to reconsider the “butterfly design.” Not only would it serve a restroom’s basic functions, but could also host concerts, classes and graduation parties, she said.

Artist Toby Quitslund stressed the need for a slow, careful design process that would not tarnish “Waterfront Park as the jewel of downtown.”

Appearing before the council as a citizen after leaving the Winslow Tomorrow director post, Sandy Fischer said the city has talked about building the restroom for too long.

“I remember at my first public meeting three years ago, when my contract started, we were talking about the bathroom,” she said. “Now, my contract ended last week and we’re still talking about the bathroom.”

She chided both citizens and the council for delays.

“The community pursuit of perfection has left us with nothing,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘if the (city) can’t build a bathroom, how they can build a community?’”

Scales agree that the “process was flawed.”

“The flaw in the process (was) that all were involved in it,” he said. “Not only the council, but Public Works (and) the community. It became something more than a bathroom.”

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said she’s hopeful the restroom issue has been put to rest.

“We don’t need perfection,” she said. “It does not need to be a statement of Bainbridge Island.

“It’s just a bathroom. Sometimes it's okay to be average.”

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