The issue of renovating Central Park took an interesting turn last week when advocates for historical preservation argued that the old WPA (Works Progress administration) restroom was an important part of the history of the community and advocated that the building be restored and converted into a storage facility.
On the other side of the issue were members of the public concerned that keeping the building had safety implications.
Councilmember Brett Lee on Tuesday led the way with a compromise that ultimately allowed the city to spend only the funds that were needed to demolish the building, while allowing the Hattie Weber Museum to make any additional expenditure in order to restore the building and convert it for storage purposes.
The compromise, Councilmember Lee argued, allowed the council to address both fiscal and safety concerns.
“I personally believe the compromise proposal is acceptable with a plan to make a few clarifying points that the key thing in terms of the space and the building and some of the concerns about safety is the removal of about 8 feet of building from the north side of the restrooms,” he said. “It really opens up the space between it and the Hattie Weber Museum.”
He noted that in its current configuration it produces “a nook and cranny sort of place,” where with the trees and the building make it “not unreasonable for people to be concerned about who knows who is actually hiding behind the trees there.”
“With the removal of 8 feet of the building of the non-historic part, that definitely opens up that space and I think generally speaking most people would no longer have that level of concern,” he said.
But for him the key was that the museum would be willing to pay a good portion of the fees.
He said, “I would be willing to, in terms of the cost for tearing the building down, allocate that towards the cost of repairing it, but that the Hattie Weber folks would have to pay the full cost beyond that to bring the building up to ADA compliance.”
“My proposal would be that the Hattie Weber folks pay the difference and that’s for full ADA compliant, so this is not just come to do a couple of random things so that we have a broken down little building there,” he emphasized. “It has to be brought up to code, structurally sound, ADA compliant.”
Lucas Frerichs and Joe Krovoza would ultimately agree to the compromise in a 3-2 vote.
“I don’t think it’s a money pit,” Councilmember Frerichs said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue like the Tank House was – I don’t think they’re actually that conflatable at all.”
He added, “ I do think that we should retain the original and authentic structure the 1937 structure and make those adjustments. I think it solves a lot of the issues that have been brought up, his concerns, including safety and the site lines and things like that.”
The move changes the course of several council decisions.
On February 16, 2010, the city council directed staff to consolidate several capital improvement projects that were being planned for Central Park based on the project goal and objectives presented to the council, including demolition of the old restroom.
On November 1, 2011, the city council voted 3-2 to direct staff to put the plans for Phase I of the Central Park Master Plan out to bid, including construction of the new restroom, history plaza, upgraded electrical improvements and demolition of the old restroom with a modification that staff “proceed with demolition of the existing restroom in Central Park and relocate the existing storage shed to the Hattie Weber Museum incorporating the shed appearance with the Hattie Weber Museum to be used as storage.”
During the meeting last week, part of the debate was over the historical importance of the restroom and whether it should be torn down, or preserved as storage.
Staff asked Brown Construction to provide an estimate of rehabbing the building for use as storage. The report addresses many concerns, including structural issues and interior shelving, and shows a cost of $48,870.
The museum, in response in 2012, came out with their proposal for converting the old Central Park Restroom Building into a storage facility, arguing, “We believe that it is well understood that the Museum is in need of additional storage space. Our hope is to use the WPA-B most immediately as storage for our currently unused items and for our on-going accumulation of additional artifacts related to the history of Davis and the Davis Region. This use would logically begin in the WPA-B areas that are already being used for storage.”
In contrast to the city, they believe that the cost here would be essentially nothing, arguing, “We would use filing cabinets, some tables, some low book shelves, and some low storage shelving to hold maps and other rolled/large papers, storage boxes, unused display boards, unused easels, a large bell, chairs and furniture, a bicycle, etc.
“We already have most of these shelving/storage items and hope that, in addition, the substantial shelving currently in these two rooms would be retained for our use. We have observed that the roof of the building is free of significant leaks that might pose a hazard to our stored materials.”
According to the staff report, “The Hattie Weber Museum indicated at that meeting that most of the work on the building could be done with volunteers. The City Attorney explained that use of volunteers may have legal constraints.”
However, not all of the council bought into the changes. Rochelle Swanson, speaking remotely, remained concerned about the safety concerns that many in the community brought forth last week.
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk also remained unconvinced that this move was a true compromise.
“I think that in my mind this council needs to just decide whether essentially it wants to keep the building or not and my issue with this compromise to the extent that it sort of is a compromise, to the folks that would like to see that building removed, it doesn’t address any of the issues that have been brought up,” he argued, noting in particular that it does not seem to address the safety concerns.
“I think that this motion adds some real complexity, it had some real expense to them, to me it’s just doesn’t seem like a real compromise, I would rather see this council simply make a decision on either keep the building there as is and refurbishing it … or just remove it and make it part of this history plaza,” he said. “For that reason I’m going to oppose this.”
It was Brett Lee who led the way, arguing that “the city doesn’t have money to splash out on a bunch of things” and that “we have these competing demands, we have a fixed sized pot of money and we have to be very careful.”
It was in the end the advocates who made this possible.
“When I was talking to the people from the advocates on behalf of keeping this building I tried to explain that finances, cities are not able to do all these things that we were once able to do,” Councilmember Lee continued. “And then they said the magic word or words which was that they would be willing to pay for it.”
He added, “The key here is we’re not going to have to pay anything additional.”
There, of course, is a chance that a structural engineer will look at the building and decide it is structurally unsound. Moreover, the Hattie Weber folks may be unable or unwilling to come up with $75,00 to pay to bring the building up to specs, but at least the council gave them that option, Brett Lee argued.
In the end, Dan Wolk and Rochelle Swanson voted against the compromise, and Joe Krovoza cast the deciding vote to allow this to go forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting