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After years of delay, Waterfront restroom to finally open

This Sunday marks the end of Bainbridge Island's longest running bathroom joke.

The Waterfront Park restroom facility, after almost eight years of debate, planning and argument, will finally open to the public and nearby boaters.

"Anything I say about this will be anti-climactic," council member Debbie Vancil said. "I'm just glad it finally got done."

Beginning in 2001, the wooden facilities at Waterfront Park were declared unsafe and were subsequently torn down. Planning for its replacement or upgrade had been ongoing for at least three years prior to the condemnation of the old facilities, with no formally approved plans.

The park waited with temporary portable facilities as citizens and the City Council wrangled over designs for a new facility, which ran the gamut from bare-bones porcelain to a community-center styled structure.

An original prefabricated design was agreed upon in 2005 for $225,000.

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

Another design brought forward by the Winslow Tomorrow planning team envisioned the restroom partially underground with an observation deck, showers, storage and “earth-friendly” features such as natural lighting and ventilation.

"The process went on for so long because of the continual changes to the project and the continual cost increases that went along with those changes," Vancil said. "The council continued to go along the whole way to approve plans, and then within a couple of months we would be presented with a better idea and every new idea extended the timeline and the cost."

Some proposals for the design and construction of the restroom went as high as $1.1 million.

It was then that the council put the brakes on the debate and called for a project that would provide, as one former council member said, "Just bathrooms and nothing else."

The council directed the city staff to work within a $300,000 budget.

"The council said," according to Vancil, "'We don't want any more ideas, enough already. Just do it as soon as possible, for this amount of money and we don't want to hear about it until it opens.'"

At the time, Public Works Director Randy Witt said the project would probably end up looking like a generic state-park facility, but the city was able to add some aesthetic portions to its design.

"It's been through six years and several design efforts," Witt said. "The design the council eventually decided upon was pretty much the one presented from the very beginning."

The new restroom has the typical amenities, plus a family restroom and a separate shower area.

It also features rustic wood siding, a metal roof and incorporates suggests by the Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Committee for improved accessibility that includes a level entry way and sidewalk separation to assist the visually impaired.

The facility will have timed and coded locks that will allow the facility to remain open only during events and park hours. It will also be available to those who tie up to the nearby public dock.

The purpose of restricting the hours, Witt said, was to reduce the possibility of illegal activities in the restrooms.

Construction began in May. The final cost will be around $325,000, which does not include the funding dedicated to other concepts.

A new restroom facility for the public works operations and maintenance facility on Hidden Cove is currently out for bids after the council rejected two proposed contracts. The city and council have expressed hopes that the facility will come in under $100,000.

The long-awaited Waterfront Park bathroom opening on Sunday will coincide with this weekend's Parade of Boats.

There are no formal plans for an opening ceremony.

One Bainbridge citizen, who has been privy to the bathroom drama from the start, laughed uncontrollably upon discovering the restroom would be completed.

"So it finally got done – years after it was funded," he said. "And they paid almost $600 a square foot. Sounds like we bought a waterfront condo."

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