Waterfront Park users deserve better

Hold your nose.

That’s the only advice for folks doomed to another year of uncomfortable relief in a Port-o-Loo in Waterfront Park. Their sad lot owes to the combination of official inertia, parsimony and ineptitude that continues to conspire against construction of a functional restroom in our downtown’s signature public area.

This past Wednesday, the City Council made yet another “final” decision on the new restroom (that would be the council’s third “final” decision on the issue, for anyone counting), approving funding of some $325,000 for the latest iteration of a toilet and shower facility in the lower park area. “I don’t want to see this restroom again until I can use it,” a council member huffed with some indignation, as the council debated the loo for – literally – the 13th time.

The only problem: the funding approved Wednesday won’t cover the restroom being proposed, which the council knew full well even as it took the vote. Instead, the city staff was directed to design a scaled-down project to fit the arbitary budget, regardless of whether a spartan facility will actually meet the long-term needs of the park.

We’re not sure what purpose is served by short-changing the restrooms, given the millions the city is about to commit to renovation of our downtown and Waterfront Park’s central place in those efforts. Indeed, the current designs show the restroom tucked into the park hillside, with sweeping terraces and a promenade above opening up dramatic new lawn areas for public enjoyment. The plans rightly anticipate a busier, much more vibrant park for the burgeoning downtown population; the council should be investing to meet that need, not quibbling over how many toilets and shower stalls might fit in this year’s budget.

Even optimists now say that any restroom is unlikely to open before the end of the year. In the meantime, the park – already a hub of activity during the Grand Old Fourth celebration and a popular outdoor concert series, to name a couple of events – will go without civilized facilities for the fifth straight summer. For some perspective, consider this: The Kitsap Public Facilities District designed, financed and built an entire conference center on the Bremerton waterfront in half the time it will have taken to put a single toilet in a Bainbridge city park. Or look at it another way: A kid who used the old park potty in middle school will be on his way to a college degree by the time he can once again avail himself of a porcelain fixture there. Embarassing.

Frustrated by failures largely of its own making, the council now says it wants to be taken out of restroom design altogether, and the city staff should hold them to it. Design a restroom that will best serve park users, boaters and tourists with long-term use of the park in mind; if it costs more than the council wants to spend, look for cuts elsewhere or find some extra money in the budget. Then put it to the council to vote yay or nay on the optimal plan. No more debate over size, location, amenities, artwork or paint color – just yay or nay.

Before then, each council member should take a magazine and head down to the park’s current facilities next time they need relief. The experience might influence their vote.

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