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Work finally begins to make Cal Anderson restrooms all-gender, a first for Seattle Parks

Cal Anderson’s bathrooms — to the left — are getting an overhaul (Image: City of Seattle)

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.

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18 thoughts on “Work finally begins to make Cal Anderson restrooms all-gender, a first for Seattle Parks” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Ever been in the present bathrooms? They’re generally on the icky side of “try and not touch anything” and get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
    I suspect (hope) that the present arrangement of shared stall space _might_ have had a minor civilizing effect on the vandalism and unfortunate personal hygiene habits displayed there.
    I fear that the conditions of 4 individual restrooms will rapidly deteriorate, and may well each become a personal encampment.
    No, I don’t have _any_ good ideas (other than the old-fashioned personal attendant) but this just seems like another slow motion train wreck.

    • So the current situation sucks, but we shouldn’t do anything to make it better because the current situation sucks?

      Did I follow your logic correctly?

      • No, I don’t think you did. He’s saying there are problems with the current situation, but he also sees problems with the new design. He definitely did not say that nothing should be done.

        My question about the new design is, what’s to prevent each of the for private rooms from become home to someone who enters, locks the door, and stays?

    • There’s no good solution. Any public restroom in Capitol Hill is going to be subject to misuse, unless someone is willing to pay for an attendant.

  2. Bathrooms should not be divided up according to gender. They should be divided up on the basis of “I need ten seconds to do my business” and “I will take forever in here doing who the hell knows what.”

  3. We should enact European rules and require payment (even if it’s just $0.50) to use public restrooms. It would help fund maintenance/cleaning and hopefully keep out people whose intention is to use a park restroom as their own private bathroom.

      • @Timmy73 – Agreed. It’s too bad that we can’t suggest reasonable solutions that would keep the bathrooms safe and clean in fear of being shouted down as a fascist.

        If this solution works for Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic, one could argue some of the most socialist populists, what is there to argue about?

      • Charging a small amount would make for clean(er) restrooms for NON-homeless people, but homeless people w/o that small money would still do their business outside. Europe does have that same issue. I’ve seen tons of vandalized public bathrooms in Europe too.

    • Didn’t we try that already? I’m pretty sure there was a pay toilet on Broadway by Seattle Central (maybe 10-15 years ago?). If I remember right, it got trashed pretty quickly. I think they removed it after a year. There was one in Pioneer Square too. It didn’t last long either.

      • Do you mean the experiment with the self cleaning ones? I don’t think you had to pay for those – they had a time limit and a door that automatically unlocked. People figured out how to jam it pretty quickly and yeah, they trashed them fast. Used them for doing drugs and turning tricks… nasty.

  4. This city already has single occupant bathrooms in some parks. I see people mostly ignore the Men/Women signs and use whatever one is available regardless of their gender.

    It’s great to update signage so it is inclusive but let’s not get carried away and think something revolutionary is happening here.

  5. How about doors that are open at the top and bottoms so that if you are living in there it’s visible and if someone passes out or OD’s they can be dragged out?

  6. CD Neighbor: the bathrooms by the Volunteer Park Conservatory are like that, and are all stainless steel and bombproof, and seem to function pretty well. (I can only speak about the bathroom nearer the road, the one historically labelled “Men”.).

  7. Man, so glad I got out of Seattle! You wouldn’t believe the abundance of clean, well-maintained restrooms we have in my lovely city in the Midwest. Just remembering the paucity of public restrooms in Seattle, the danger of them, and the ugly and disgusting maintenance of them, makes me shudder. The all-gender ones were especially gross.

    But I don’t have to worry about any of that any more. One of the first things that struck me as I headed east — how much more civilized, safe, and clean are the public restrooms in the Midwest. After putting up with disgusting public restrooms all over the city for so long, it was a real surprise to see that nearly every establishment in my new city has clean and open (no key required) restrooms for their customers.