Pricey park potty has patrons perplexed

Photo by Robert Holden

Elmhurst Park patrons are happy to finally have somewhere to relieve themselves, but many feel the taxpayer funded, city-built bathroom flushed money down the drain.

The stylish comfort station, which underwent construction during the summer of 2011 and took over a year to complete, racked up a $2.3 million price tag.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, believes the money should have been allocated to a more pressing project, such as resurfacing the cracked and flooding tennis courts at Juniper Valley Park or increasing security after the recent spike in violent attacks in parks. Holden, who has an architecture background, said the Elmhurst Park bathrooms defy the steadfast design mantra of “form follows function.”

According to Holden, the cavernous structure only holds two urinals, one toilet and two sinks in the men’s half, and three stalls and two sinks on the women’s side — ill-equipped to service the six-and-a-half acre park that is visited by nearly hundreds of people daily.

“They look great,” said Holden. “It’s just when you get a price tag in these tough times, in these times of cutbacks — it’s a testament to the waste in government. You can build a mansion with five or six bathrooms for $2 million. It’s not anything special.”

Tony Nunziato, a Maspeth civic leader who works with the Juniper Parks Civic Association, consulted a private contractor for an estimate on how much the park bathroom should cost. The contractor estimated that such a facility would cost $600,000.

According to a Department of Parks & Recreation spokesperson, the project cost $2.3 million largely because of its location — formerly the site of gas tanks.

“The industrial history of the site required contractors that were familiar with the testing and monitoring requirements that were put in place to guarantee a safe construction process and final product. No contaminates were found,” said the spokesperson. “We can only say this because we put the appropriate monitoring plan in place and paid for independent professionals to implement them.”

The parks spokesperson said direct construction costs ran $1.9 million while the remaining funds went towards land surveying, soil testing and design and that the money used to build the bathrooms came from “mayoral funds.”

According to the parks spokesperson, the bathrooms are similar to other new comfort stations throughout the city and increased usage of public restrooms calls for sturdier building practices than may be used for private facilities. The Elmhurst Park bathrooms are outfitted with thicker gauge metal doors and all-steel sanitary piping to extend the structure’s lifetime, said the spokesperson.

In defense of the bathroom’s spacious interior, the parks spokesperson said this maneuver was a deliberate attempt to combat the most frequently voiced gripe among parkgoers.

“One of the most common complaints of our traditional comfort stations is that they are dark and cramped,” said the spokesperson. “The plan gives us a form that fits in well with the overall park design, and provides a light-filled spacious interior.”

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