A delayed project to overhaul Cal Anderson’s notoriously filthy restrooms into an all-gender facility is underway in Capitol HIll’s central park. The result should be bathrooms that are better and safer for everybody. Plus, the park’s water feature and reflecting stream and pool will get a much needed infrastructure upgrade.
Seattle Parks and Rec announced the start of construction this week and says contractor Forma Construction Company already has the bathrooms closed down to begin work.
“Although the comfort station will be closed during the project, portable toilets are in place for park visitors,” the parks department promises.
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The Cal Anderson renovation will not be the first all-gender restroom building in the parks system. Seattle Code requires facilities with single-stall bathrooms to be changed from gendered to non-gendered. Parks has already re-signed these types of restrooms to be gender neutral. But Cal Anderson is the first of the existing Seattle Parks restroom buildings with multiple stalls to be transformed into a general neutral facility.
The project design was shaped by 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 then Mayor Ed Murray based on a recommendation from the city’s LGBTQ Task Force.
“The project will retain the existing exterior architectural character of the building while changing the gendered, multiple-stall restrooms into four separate, direct-entry toilet rooms,” the department’s announcement reads.
The existing bathrooms have problems 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.
The city has also experimented with posting a part-time attendant at the restrooms in summer months. Officials said there was less graffiti, the restrooms were cleaner, and people felt safer.
The all-gender construction work was originally lined up to take place during the summer of 2017. A department representative said delays were related to trying to make sure to coordinate multiple construction elements to occur at the same time so as to reduce disruption in the park. The bathroom overhaul has been coupled with a drain water retrofit project that will keep water cleaner and bring Cal Anderson’s “water mountain” fountain up to code.
Parks had a budget of $300,000 for the design and construction on the project.
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.
Cal Anderson is often 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. There will likely be more in the area’s parks soon. A $10 million contract to lead construction of repairs and upgrades of Freeway Park includes a plan for all-gender restrooms.