In the summer of 2016, Bobby Morris got a new playfield surface. In 2017, Cal Anderson Park’s notoriously gross restrooms are getting an all-gender, all-ability makeover. Both projects could become models for parks across Seattle.
Plans to redo the park’s bathrooms as an all-gender and mobility-friendly facility have been filed with the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections and are awaiting approval. The project will be paired with infrastructure upgrades for Cal Anderson’s much-loved mountain fountain for another busy summer of construction inside the popular Central Seattle park.
“It’s one of the first ones that we’re doing in the city transforming men’s and women’s restrooms into individual stalls,” Kathleen Conner, planning manager with Seattle Parks and Recreation, told CHS about the bathroom overhaul.
The four, single-occupancy, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms will have doors opening from the exterior into the restroom.
According to plans from Young Architecture for the parks department project, direct-entry stalls are the safest, most inclusive option.
This configuration, with the door opening from the exterior directly into the restroom as well as other best practices concepts, has been determined to provide a more safe and welcoming private use of public restroom for the transgender and gender non-conforming community as well as serving caretakers of different genders and family use.
The project design is derived from the parks department’s 2016 study of Cal Anderson’s facilities and the state of the art in all-gender restrooms. The study followed an executive order from Mayor Ed Murray based on a recommendation from the city’s LGBTQ Task Force. Given the mayor’s Capitol Hill residency and his frequent appearances at evens in the park, Murray is likely familiar with the drug use, filth, and garbage problems in the current facility.
“It’s a wide variety of people that use the restroom, and we want them all to feel safe and welcome,” Cheryl Eastberg, project coordinator with the parks department, told CHS in August.
The existing bathrooms have problems well beyond sanitation. According to the study, research shows transgender and gender nonconforming people face harassment, verbal attacks, crime and violence in gendered restrooms; semi-private space increases stress; and segregated restrooms make it difficult to participate in society.
Those working on the study spoke with the transgender community and different groups throughout Seattle as well as other cities to reach a recommendation to remodel the multi-stall gendered restrooms into four separate direct-entry restrooms with sinks and toilets that also meet ADA requirements.
A part-time attendant was stationed at the restroom throughout last summer, which was “very successful” Conner said. There was less graffiti, the restrooms were cleaner and people felt safer. She is unsure if a decision about whether or not to have a restroom attendant this summer has been made.
Along with the reconfiguration of the Cal Anderson Park “comfort station,” other improvements including minor changes to the building’s exterior and, likely, lighting right outside of the building.
If funding allows, the park’s department might also widen the path from E Olive St to the park’s wading pool to make it ADA accessible, Conner said. That portion of the project would also require approval from the Landmarks Preservation Board.
Eastberg said the project has been coupled with the fountain drain water retrofit project that will keep the water cleaner and bring the fountain up to code. “To minimize disruption to the park, we’ll be doing both projects together,” Eastberg said.
Two other studies — Cal Anderson Park Lighting Master Plan and Cal Anderson Park Crime Prevention through Environmental Design — have made recommendations for improving safety at the park. Recommendations from these will be considered based on the budget, according to submitted project documents.
Cal Anderson has become a bit of a testing ground for new Seattle Parks initiatives. In 2016, a new cork-filled field surface was installed on Bobby Morris to replace the crumb-rubber-type surface that has become a health concern. Officials said health concerns were secondary to the fact the surface due for replacement. If the new turf proves successful, the pilot program will be extended to artificial turf fields across the city, parks officials said. The all-gender project, too, should be a model for similar projects at parks restrooms in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the construction project will mean yet another summer of fences blocking off portions of the park. In addition to the playfield work in 2016, large areas of Cal Anderson were fenced off in 2010 and 2011 as the parks department executed a $250,000 plan to overhaul areas where grass was struggling to grow in the Olmsted-designed green space.
The parks department has a budget of $300,000 for the design and construction of the new Cal Anderson comfort station. Construction is planned to take place this summer.
Officials plan to hold a public meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the comfort station project.