A writer from Scotland asks: What’s up with the WSP “portaloos”?

“Portaloos” in front of closed off old restroom building

Received this letter in the InBox yesterday:

Hi!,

I’ m  just back to scotland from a week in new york spending most of my time in greenwich village and therefore a lot of time in washington square park.

I just wanted to comment on how disgusting the portaloos are that are there temporarily while a new comfort station is built.

While portaloos might be a good idea,they should surely be kept cleaner. I used one once but would not go near them again. At least being a guy i didn’t have to sit down while using it.

I am a regular visitor to the city. God knows what first time tourists make of them.

I just wondered what you thought.

John A Learmonth.

I told Mr. Learmonth that I hadn’t used the bathrooms pre-redesign at WSP* (they really were in horrendous condition) and I don’t quite see myself venturing into the “portaloos,” especially now reading this account of how “disgusting” they are and apparently in need of more maintenance (something I’m certain is not fun to do).

Oh, and how about “portaloos?” Is that the perfect word? Apparently what they call them in Scotland. Our U.S. version “Port-o-potties” so pales in comparison.

It was a fight to get the portaloos there; there were no plans for them initially and then the Parks Department agreed to it and three very functional looking units arrived (CallAhead, they beckon). Reading an article recently about the glamourous perhaps overdone new $2 million rest rooms at Elmhurst Park, it was stated that they had “portable toilets” while the “edgy design” was being constructed. It didn’t sound like it had been an issue.

Anyway, has anyone else used them? Comments?

If you’re wondering what the new bathrooms at WSP will look like when Phase III construction is completed, the architectural plans call for an ivy-covered, trellis-topped “pergola.”

*Oh, and a tip of my top choices of nearby restrooms: Think Coffee, Lifethyme Natural Market, and even sometimes Starbucks Sixth Avenue.

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Washington Square, Sunday: Mystery Atop the Arch, Phase III Construction Continues, Obscured from View, More

As I wrote earlier, I’d been in San Francisco. Here are some ‘snapshots’ from yesterday. Most perplexing: what is protruding from the top of the Arch?

A first look

the thing atop the Arch… another view

Wider view…

another view… (there’s a small bird there checking it out)

fenced off construction area

Interesting. The fence cordoning off Phase III construction has been draped with green plastic sheeting to obscure public view. Was this a decision of the contractor? the Parks Department? This was not the case during Phase II or Phase I. It’s not a terrible idea but it makes me wonder. Also there are no official signs indicating what is being done (as is traditionally the case).

southern end encased fencing

inside the construction zone

A last look at park buildings before demolition

A pigeon tried to land on this light and diverted his course and that’s when I noticed..

this…

shattered light, fountain plaza

Rain, the Fountain Plaza


(This post was amended from an earlier version.)

At the Park: There WILL be bathrooms while Phase III is under way, NY Dosas is here, and more

“port-o-potties” have arrived in front of ‘old’ bathroom location

In the wake of the news that there would be no replacement bathrooms while the existing rest rooms were under renovation during Phase III, the Community and park goers’ reaction was outrage. Well, kudos to the Parks Department (and I don’t get to say that often enough)– in this instance, they listened and responded. It’s hard to get too excited about portable toilets (although it was also hard to be enthusiastic about the state of the bathrooms as they were*) and I’m not sure if there could have been a better solution but … hey… it’s something. Three “port-o-potties” have appeared outside the location of the previous building.

Relocated park favorite NY Dosas

Vegan – and everyone’s – favorite cart vendor NY Dosas, featuring “South Indian Food,” has moved out a bit further on Washington Square South but he’s still there, construction and all! People were patiently waiting in line for his vegetarian crepes and $1 bottled water.

Vibrant flowers, eastern side.

Lone pigeon amidst the bustling fountain plaza.

* The rest rooms were the phase of the park that pretty much everyone in the community lobbied to be done first – they were in such dire state and falling apart. Now in year four of the redesign construction, they are now being replaced. The Parks Department almost purposefully left them for the very last.

WSP Redesign Phase III begins! No Restrooms for one Year? Asbestos Removal from Old Buildings, “Pergola” and New Mounds on the Way

Securing the new fence

Restrooms off limits for one year…

Tree protection remains inadequate…

At last, Phase III (well, technically IV) of Washington Square Park‘s dramatic, lavish redesign began last week! I’ve been working on updating the site so that’s taken some priority lately. Two park activists informed me on the same day that there will be no use of the park’s bathrooms for ONE YEAR while Phase III is ongoing (strange, eh? that replacement temporary units would not be put into play? Not that the WSP bathrooms have ever been a great priority to the Parks Department). The Villager finally began covering the redesign at this late stage and discovered that there is asbestos being removed from the three buildings that are being replaced. Those three small buildings – the men’s and women’s bathrooms and park administrative office – will all become one housed within a “pergola.” (Envision an upscale suburban train station.) As you can imagine, I attended more than a few meetings about Phase III and the new buildings and strangely (?) no one ever mentioned asbestos.

More to come…

Overview of Phase III

After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow?

WSP SW entrance -- will these fences really be coming down at last?

Completion date on sign: "Summer 2011" (Formerly Fall 2010)

The Lonely Chess Plaza




Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase IIB — the Chess Plaza and Southwestern Quadrant — under construction for 29 months (that’s 2 years and 5 months) is more than 17 months behind schedule (that’s one year and five months) from the original scheduled completion date and 9 months behind Phase IIA’s opening (June 2011) at which point it seemed likely it would be finished shortly thereafter.

It is now scheduled to be opened to the public at any moment – perhaps even tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd. At this point, we’ll believe it when we see it!

Depending on whom you ask, it was either the Parks Department’s stalling the project, a lack of any oversight by any governing body, or a problem between the contractor and the Parks Department which led to the monumental delay. Or some combination of all three.

This is what I wrote on June 2nd 2011 when Phase IIA – the eastern side of the Park – opened:

Phase II was scheduled for completion by Fall 2010; then we heard the end of the year (tho’ doubted it), then “Spring 2011,” then “by Memorial Day,” but park goers looked happy to be finally able to stream through the eastern end of the park.

Of course, this isn’t all of Phase II, since, for one, part of it (The Mounds and the Large Dog Run) was moved into Phase III. And Chess Plaza, technically still in Phase II, now Phase II-B, won’t be finished til the end of the month. At least, at last, it’s something!

WSP Blog chronicled the problems back in September 2010 outlining how the city’s parks department caused numerous delays in getting the job done, how the project was over-budget, and the fact that no governmental agencies were providing oversight.

Washington Square Park’s entire redesign – Phases I, II, and III – was budgeted and approved for $16 Million at the onset. Phase I alone — which moved the fountain to align with the Arch, reduced the public space around the fountain, and re-landscaped the NorthWest Quadrant, opened in May of 2009 — cost $13 Million.

Phase II was budgeted at $9 Million but will likely be $8 Million and that’s without the Large Dog Run and Mounds (included in the original figure).

Phase III (rest rooms and administrative building – the new “pergola”) had been budgeted at $9 Million (note – that’s before the cost of the Mounds and Dog Run are added in). Got all that?

Since the Parks Department’s projects continue to be seriously over-budget with no apparent oversight by any governing body, the project by the end will have more than doubled from its approved budget and is now projected for $30-$35 Million in cost.

A review of the finances:

Phase I cost: $13 Million (budgeted at $6 Million)
Phase II cost: $9.1 Million (budgeted at $9 Million but that figure was including the Dog Run and Mounds — both of which have been moved into Phase III)
Phase III: bid came in at “approximately 5.4 Million” according to the Parks Department
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Total projected thus far: $27.5 Million but there is no way Phase III will come in at $5.4 Million so we are at least $30 Million for a project which was approved at $16 Million at the onset.

It should be noted that Phase III contains the piece that the surrounding community and park users wanted completed first – the much neglected and deteriorating rest rooms. The Parks Department refused to accommodate this request; the city agency practically went out of its way to make sure this was completed last in the 3 phases of the project.

Work is presently scheduled to begin on Phase III — which now includes the Large Dog Run, the Mounds, Administrative Building, Rest Rooms and possibly perimeter sidewalks (much in need of repair!) — in April of this year.

At least, at last, the Chess Plaza will finally be opening! Will it be tomorrow? We’ll see…

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

************************************************
An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

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Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

Mama Hawk Violet Spotted At Washington Square — Visits the Nest With Bobby; Bobby and Pip splitting time between WSP and Union Square

I haven’t written about the Washington Square Park Red-tailed hawks of late. Last Thursday (8/11), hours before the New York Times shut down the HawkCam, and in time to be captured on video, Violet and Bobby returned to the nest together. Mama Hawk Violet had been ‘missing’ – not spotted in close to a month – so there was relief that she was still around and doing okay.

I wonder how they communicated to each other to meet up back there.

Pip - West 3rd Street Antenna Late July

A couple of weeks ago in the early evening at Washington Square, I encountered Bruce from the Urban Hawks Blog and Heather from Roger_Paw blog, who were there with a group seeking Bobby and youngster Pip along Washington Square North. They informed me that the two hawks had begun splitting their time between Washington Square and Union Square. I had mixed feelings about that (feeling a bit, uh, territorial?) but this would appear to give the pigeons and squirrels at Washington Square (and mice and rats, should they be there too) some breathing room.

As for Pip’s gender, I’ve always thought of Pip as a boy but then one of the hawk blogs stated very definitively that Pip is a girl. I started referring to Pip as ‘she’ thinking this was confirmed. According to Andy Newman at the Times (in the comments at Thursday’s post), it is the “consensus” that Pip is a girl but it is not verified. A Times‘ commenter wrote that boy hawks are usually smaller than girl hawks and she thought, based on the young hawk’s size, that Pip is a boy. This sounds plausible. Thus far, I’ve noticed a lot of things expressed about the hawks as fact end up being entirely wrong or else these downtown hawks are going against the ‘norm.’ (Which would also make sense, right?)

Earlier this summer, Pip had been taking advantage of the area that’s fenced off and under construction (Southwestern end of the park). Since that section (Phase II-B) is not scheduled to be completed any day soon (more on that later), somebody should be enjoying it! Of course, then there’s still Phase III construction to come — for which bids to complete the work are allegedly due August 17th.

Pip will have access to the soon to be recreated Mounds (moved from Phase II to Phase III) before anyone else! This final phase of Washington Square Park construction probably won’t start until next year, I’d imagine, but we’ll see.

Photo: Redtail 10025

Previously on WSP Blog: Violet, Bobby and Pip

Projected Opening for WSP Phase II; Washington Square Again Given Short Shrift by Parks Department and CB2

"Spring 2011" completion now means around or after Memorial Day

We have a date. Or, at least, close to one. Projected opening for the entire Eastern side of Washington Square Park Phase II, currently under construction, is slated for “Around Memorial Day.” That’s the (latest) word from the NYC Parks Department stated last night at a meeting of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee. The agency is now saying “early June” for the Chess area and Southwestern Plaza (tho’ I doubt the Eastern and SW sections will open so close together in time). As I predicted, Phase II is opening in two parts.

Yet again, however, Community Board 2 and the Parks Department paid scant attention to one of the city’s most prominent parks. First, Washington Square Park was listed last on the published agenda of topics to be covered, almost as if an afterthought.

The focus on the meeting was updates on the status of seven Greenwich Village area parks, including Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground & Comfort Station/Bleecker Sitting Area, and the High Line. One of these is only .03 of an acre.

Then, at the meeting, instead of an update presented by designer George Vellonakis or WSP Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson (neither was present), it was given by Brad Romaker from the Capital Projects division of the Parks Department. Romaker has a disarming honesty that also makes him immensely likable. However, that can’t make up for the fact that he was sent in to the meeting with little knowledge of any of the projects he updated on, other than what was contained on a piece of paper from which he read updates.

As far as Washington Square Park Phase III — Restrooms and Parks’ Administrative Building, which now also includes the Mounds and Large Dog Run (previously in Phase II) — Romaker informed the community that this will go out for contractor bids in May. He said construction on Phase III will begin in “late summer” (I believe this is highly unlikely).

The Parks Department has not updated on Washington Square substantively in more than a year. I question their judgment in not sending someone familiar with the project to update the community and New Yorkers on this historic and landmark New York City park.

This is Part I update on the meeting. Part II to follow Monday, April 11th.

* The Skinny on Phase II Construction and Why it’s so behind schedule.

Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II — Progress & Cost Update

To keep you up to date with the latest

Despite initial reports that a section of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II would open in December 2010 (I always doubted that), what is now Phase II – specifically the Northeast & Southeast Quadrants and no longer including the Mounds and large Dog Run on the southern side – will open Spring 2011. The original scheduled completion date was Fall 2010. (More on delays here.)

The corrected signs around the park reflect this and it has been confirmed by the city’s Parks Department. I’ve heard most likely April will be the formal unveiling. You might recall that Phase I had a “soft” opening in May 2009 and was open for a week and a half before a grand opening ceremony was held with the Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Council Member Alan Gerson, et al.

Final cost for Phase II?

According to the Parks Department, it is estimated that the cost for Phase II will come in completed at around $8 million. The middle phase of the park’s reconstruction has now been revised from the original design plans. Sections, including the large dog run and Mounds (I’m unclear if Chess area is included — will update Chess area still part of Phase II), have been reallocated into Phase III, likely to break ground in the Fall 2011, if not later.

A little recap of finances related to the Park’s project:

Phase I NW Quadrant + Fountain Plaza (cost): $16 million
Phase II NE & SE Quadrants + Chess Area (estimate): $8 million
____________________________________________

Phase I & II = $24 million at least (estimated)

Phase III cost : unknown

What we do know is that Phase III’s forthcoming “pergola” — which will house the long awaited upgraded restrooms and Park administrative offices — will, according to a report in the New York Post, cost about $4 million.

Still incomplete, we’re at $28 million.

The entire controversial project, Washington Square Park redesigned Phases I, II and III, was initially budgeted for – and given the green light at – $16 million. Once completed, we’re now looking at Phases I, II and III reaching $30-$35 million & likely higher.

*****************************************************************************

** Note: WSP Blog new entries will resume February 25th. If something new develops; I will post so check back now and again. **

Phase III Washington Square Park: New Bathroom/Park Administrative Building

Design for new bathrooms/park admin offices

This is the design for the main part of Washington Square Park Redesign Phase III: the Park administrative offices and bathrooms. Presently these are three separate buildings (ladies/mens room and park admin offices) and now they will be combined. There will be a path that separates the building from the new dog run — people will be able to sit and watch the dogs — which is being moved to the exterior of the park along Washington Square South(it’s not shown but it will be on the right in this photo). The walls to the offices will be glass and you will be able to view the park personnel working there (and they will be able to view you). On top is a wood trellis – to be constructed with “salvaged Ipe wood” – rainforest wood allegedly being reused, unlike the endangered, virgin Ipe wood used on the benches at the rest of the park – and the balance of the building is steel and stone. The architects (an outside firm hired by the NYC Parks Department) call this building a “pergola.” It looks a bit modern to me and others thought it looked like it belonged in a suburban train station but we’ll see…

This is what went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday. I was unable to attend but hoping to get an update.

Update: LPC hearing did not happen because they did not have a quorum — one of the commissioners is a partner in the architecture firm that designed the above and recused himself. New date to be scheduled.

** Update: this was approved.**

Late 2010: Large Dog Run and Mounds Formerly in Phase II Moved into Phase III.