Opinion

New park restroom needs closure

Somewhere in this tale, there is a quip about the

“privy council.”

Indeed, when the question of how best to build a

new restroom in Waterfront Park goes before our city’s seven legislators next week, it will be the third time this year the council has, one might say, spent time on the john. (It’s also, by one count, at least the 15th time the park’s amenities have been debated in one city meeting or other since the decrepit old restroom was torn down three years ago.)

It’s unclear whether to declare “progress” at this point, given the circularity with which the park has moved into the future. Two expensive, formal master plans over the past eight years have resulted in no tangible improvements or amenities; the new play equipment was only installed to bring the facility up to standards set by the National Playground Safety Institute. The council OK’d construction of a prefabricated restroom to be built this summer, until arts interests called for another round of design and review – pushing construction back to 2006, it now appears.

But as the call of nature ever returns, so too does hope; the council next week will have before it yet another restroom plan, one that offers a functionality and grace almost beyond contemplation in this, the era of the humble Honey Bucket. The design by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen appears well-conceived, not least for considering amenities beyond the rudiments of toilets and showers. Covered gathering areas are essential features of any public park, particularly in this clime, and have been missing at Waterfront Park since the old loo was razed. While the aesthetic treatments have yet to be fully imagined, designers say the sloping roofs could corral rainwater to a central point, there to drain into some sort of water feature. Regrading of the nearby terrain could create a grassy, amphitheater-like bowl oriented toward the performance area across the park. Together, the features would make the park considerably more park-like.

Would but that it were so simple. The facility would also, depending on whom you ask, be too far from the public dock, and thus out of reach for boaters and liveaboards; preserve a view corridor from Bjune Drive to the water, or block one; improperly displace patrons of the park’s tennis courts, courts which themselves may or may not be worn beyond their useful life; potentially disrupt an archaeological midden that just might be under the park grounds; require cumbersome permitting under the city’s Shoreline Master Program and/or variance provisions; or just plain cost too much.

Ironically, one city official last week hailed the restroom project as the first tangible manifestation of the Winslow Tomorrow revitalization effort. We think there is considerable wisdom in that observation, as the project is a useful metaphor for the challenges that will face our elected officials as they choose from among competing visions for the greater downtown. No one proposal is going to please everyone, and with so many competing interests, someone is likely to come away unhappy. But that is the nature of public process.

Ultimately, there comes a time for a council to make a decision, and for a community to accept it with grace and move on. For the Waterfront Park restroom, surely this is it.

Let us finally – all of us – go, or get off the pot.

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