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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New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.

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

Will 1/3 of Washington Sq Park’s Already Delayed Phase II Construction – including Dog Runs, Mounds, Chess Area – Be Moving into Phase III? Word on the Street Says Yes.

You might recall, in my September 7th post flagging some of the problems being currently encountered in the construction of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II, that I questioned whether the relocation of the Dog Runs might be moving into Phase III.

The small & large dog runs’ new and pretty much unwelcome locations will be at Washington Square South bordering the park’s administrative offices and bathrooms (scheduled for Phase III, tho’ the community long requested this work be completed first).

Well, now, it appears not just the dog run is being moved into Phase III. Sources tell me that much of the southwestern side – which includes the Mounds & Adjacent Play Area, the Large Dog Run and the Chess area – will be moving into the final (as of now) phase of the historic park’s controversial redesign.

It hasn’t officially been announced yet but it’s pretty much a fait accompli.

It’s even more interesting because I wrote to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in September 2009 suggesting this very thing. It seemed fairly obvious to many, not just me. If it had been approached this way at the onset, it would have saved time, money, and a large section that went under wraps could have remained, well, unwrapped while the eastern section was being reconstructed.

My letter of September 25th, 2009:

Dear Commissioner Benepe:

I have been wondering why Washington Square Park Phase II plans call for closing off such large sections of the park – NorthEast, SouthEast and SouthWest Quadrants – all at once and why this work could not be completed in at least two stages so that the public would not be so limited in access to the park while under construction.  This is a large amount of space to place off limits all at once.

Has there been any consideration to breaking it up into two parts? (Perhaps chess area and mounds being completed at a later date, for example.)

Parks Commissioner Benepe wrote back to me on October 29th, 2009:

Dear Ms. Swan:

Thank you for your email regarding Phase II of the renovation of Washington Square Park.

We realize it is an inconvenience for park users to have such a large part of the park closed temporarily. However, dividing the project into additional phases and extending the timeline would raise the cost of completing the project considerably. The current plan allows us to finish the project as quickly as possible while still keeping some portion of the park open to the public at all times.

Hmmm… Guess that didn’t quite work out as planned.

Phase II was supposed to be completed now. It will not be completed until late this year/early 2011. The cost is already at $9 million incomplete (expanded greatly past the original budgeted amount of $6 million) and counting.

The entire project at the onset was approved by the NY City Council at a cost of $16 million for all three phases. Phase I alone cost that. Expect that $16 million figure to – at least – double by the construction’s completion.

Phase III is scheduled to begin at some point in 2011.

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.

Community Board 2 Parks Committee to Meet Wed. Feb. 3rd – Will discuss WSP

Updated 2/3
* Wednesday, February 3rd, 6:30 p.m., Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting – on agenda: status report by NYC Parks Dept on Phase III design of Washington Sq Pk comfort stations/bathrooms. As far as Phase II updates…

At the last WSP Task Force/CB2 Parks Committee meeting in December, the Parks Department was admittedly unprepared and said they’d return in February 2010 with details on current status of Phase II construction including presentation of various final details of the plan plus current status of plans for Phase III, the Washington Square Park maintenance building and rest rooms. Will that be part of this meeting or will that happen at another time?

Update: According to CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, the Parks Department was asked to bring information and diagrams relating to Phase II to this meeting.

Location: St. Anthony’s Of Padua, 154 Sullivan (between Houston & Prince), Lower Hall

Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees Surrounding the Washington Square Park Fountain Have Died — Is the Cause the Design? + WSP Task Force Meeting Update

Dying Tree Lining Fountain, Since Removed

Last week’s meeting of Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee on December 2nd provided minimal new information about Phase II (currently in progress) and Phase III of the Park’s redesign.

Another meeting of the WSP Task Force is scheduled for February 2010 at which the NYC Parks Department will be prepared to present information on Phases II and III since they admitted they were not equipped to do so at the December 2nd meeting.

[Update: This meeting did not happen; it was the infamous meeting where the blueprints for Phase II were dropped off on a table with no discussion. It was a CB2 Parks Committee meeting; the Task force did not meet.]

There was one item of note: A brief discussion on why two of the new trees planted around the Washington Square Park Fountain died earlier this year. Landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted that there is “no drainage problem” and that it was just a result of the construction (which is troubling, if so, also).

I encountered a landscape architect at the park one day in August when the two trees were being dug up and removed who informed me that the (new) design is not appropriate for proper water drainage with structural soil and that this diminishes (perhaps eliminates) the tree’s ability to survive.

Seven of the trees that lined the Fountain (close to forty years old) were axed because of the Bloomberg Administration’s desire to relocate the Washington Square Park Fountain 22 feet east so that it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The Fountain had been in its previous location since 1871.

The true test will be if the new trees planted survive. If they don’t, let’s hope that the Parks Department will take some corrective action.  It seems wrong to sacrifice living trees for a potentially flawed design.

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