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.)

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

Washington Square News, NYU’s Daily Newspaper, on Chess Plaza Opening

For readers of this blog who are looking for more “positivity” here, here you go.

Washington Square News, NYU’s daily newspaper, reports on the opening of the SouthWest Quadrant,”Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park,” online today. The writer, Emily Yang, interviewed me — she wrote a well done, comprehensive piece and my viewpoint sounds quite positive. (Tho’, I must admit, my more in-depth comments on the project taking so long or about reduction in size of chess plaza were pretty much left out — another park user fills some of that in.)

I’d never really thought about the difference in dynamic the SW entrance to the park offers until I sat down at a chess table the day the plaza opened at last. The writer asked me what I thought this section opening meant to people who visit the park. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

Our goal was to create a renewed sense of space, with a design that restored and upgraded the significant features that make Washington Square Park an iconic destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike,” [Parks Department spokesperson Phil] Abramson said.

Phase III was expected to be completed by winter 2011. But Abramson said the next phase will begin this spring and last for one year. When completed, it will include a large, renovated dog run and park house with a public restroom and space for the maintenance staff.

Cathryn Swan, creator of the Washington Square Park Blog, said the opening of the new area will bring positive results to the community. But she said this phase is long overdue.

Even though the central plaza where the chess tables are has been reduced a lot in size, this section is an important part of the park,” Swan said.

“The southern end has a different feeling, maybe because people are coming from Bleecker and MacDougal where there is a lot going on,” she added. “So it’ll be nice to have a flow again through the park from there.”

Long-time WSP visitor Vince Marchese, 70, said the fences took away from the beauty of the park for too long.

“I would say it looks like an improvement of about 50 percent,” Marchese said. “It’s a nice place to go to, where things happen all the time.”

He said other aspects of the park, including the cleanliness of the existing public restrooms and how often the fountain is turned on, have room for improvement.

Full story at Washington Square News: Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park

Chess Plaza – SW Quadrant – So Close & Yet Will It Be Completed This Year?

Off Limits for Oh So Long

So Close... And Yet?

Part of Phase III Now Fenced Off

Even I get a bit tired writing about the status of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II… When I wrote my last post on what-seemed-like-its-imminent-completion on November 10th, I really thought this section of the park – Phase II-B – long-under-construction (amidst prolonged stops and starts) would be open by the end of that month. Now it’s mid-December and it appears just some landscaping and fencing is left to be completed. Work that should not take very long. Certainly the whole job should have been completed soon after Phase II-A opened on June 2nd. And yet, something is very wrong with this taking so long, and, again, no elected official or governing body pays it any attention.

I wonder when Phase III (which also now includes parts of Phase II) will begin. The budget for all three phases is at least $35 Million at this point (initially budgeted and approved by the City Council for $16 Million).

To catch up on Phase II A and B, see this WSP Blog post: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II-B/Chess Plaza Finally Sees Some Action * Completion by Month’s End? November 10, 2011

An overview of Phase II, the cost and delays here.

Yesterday at the Park (Photos)

Two Squirrels enjoy the "Hanging Elm" NW Quadrant

Cleaning Up Chess Plaza - Work Resumed ?

Plants Arrive SW Quadrant

Arch Still Barricaded Off

??

Chalked Plaza -- Occupy Washington Square Park

Fall Colors or Another Fountain Tree Dying?

The squirrels in the park were in fine form yesterday … enjoying visitors and regulars, and, of course, the park’s trees — pictured at top is the famous and very old “Hanging Elm” in the North West Quadrant. …

Work appears to have resumed somewhat on construction on Phase II-B – South West Quadrant/Chess Plaza  – signs that someone was there appeared in the form of potted plants and a wheel barrow. …

The Arch is still mysteriously barricaded off. It’s hard to know what to make of that. (Think of the “poor tourists” and visitors wanting to get their pictures taken in front of the Arch! Kidding, sort of.) …

Occupy Washington Square chalked the plaza to announce the location of their meeting the other night. Next meeting is on Wednesday (tomorrow), October 26th at 7 p.m. and the community is invited! …

It’s hard to say if the remaining 3 – living – trees around the fountain — the ones that remain — are now exhibiting fall colors or are dying.

Photos: Cathryn

Among Other Things, Phase II Contractor Confirms WSP Fountain is Not Aligned with the Arch After All (Part II)

Oh Dear...

Updated 3:45 p.m. — I’ve written here about the problems and certainly the delays on Washington Square Park’s redesign over the last few years. Now it has been confirmed that the stalled work on Phase II, halted for six weeks now, is due to a dispute between the city’s Parks Department and the contractor, Tucci Equipment Rental Corporation. Anthony Martucci, the head of Tucci, says that the Parks Department has not paid him a large sum he is owed and is cutting payment amounts for work for which costs were approved in advance by the city agency.

In an email to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Community Board representatives, City Council members, and select press this week, Martucci says that he agreed to a “gag order” after speaking out last fall about problems at the park (see this post from September 2010 for some details of the problems at that time). He says he came to an agreement at that time with the Parks Department and the relationship was relatively harmonious for awhile. That harmony ended at some point earlier this year.

In his email, Martucci outlines some significant pieces of information. Perhaps the one of most interest relates to the aligning of the fountain with the Arch.

A little history of WSP Blog coverage on this topic — I wrote about this possible misalignment in August 2008 and also after a reader, Steve, commented in August 2009, as follows:

Is anyone ever going to admit that the fountain is now aligned to nothing — not the center of the park as it was before, not the arch and not 5th Avenue? What was the point of moving it?!?!?! It is NOT aligned to either the arch or the avenue.

The Bloomberg Administration’s grand “vision” for Washington Square Park included moving the Fountain from its historic location to a new placement 22 feet east so it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Pretty much no one agreed with this change in location but the administration would not be deterred.

The fountain had been in its previous location – which was the actual CENTER OF THE PARK – since 1871; over 137 years, until Mayor Michael Bloomberg became in charge.

The Parks Department claimed that it would not cost any additional money to construct the fountain in a new location — a new location which involved rerouting water lines — but that is up for much debate and likely untrue – an obfuscation of the truth. Moving water lines would have to add additional costs.

In 2007, community activist Jonathan Greenberg hired a company to assess the costs of moving the Fountain and presented the findings to Council Member Alan Gerson. The company’s assessment was that it would cost at least $500,000 to move the Fountain. Gerson queried the Parks Department about this and the agency insisted there was no additional cost involved and the former Council Member took them at their word. It was one last try, after ongoing attempts to persevere by the community, to get the fountain location move stopped, as even the Landmarks Preservation Commission caved to Bloomberg’s wishes (and tactics).

From Martucci’s email:

So Tucci did some investigating, found out the center of the fountain was actually 4 ft out from the center. This threw all the designers dimensions off, and Parks knew it but didn’t tell Tucci because they didn’t want to let the public know.

When Tucci exposed this, Parks to protect them self was going to default Tucci from the project.

I have fought very hard to finish this job, Tucci hasn’t gotten paid now for 3 months, and just recently parks has cut payment 13 from $650,000 to $276,000 without explanation.

That is one reason the chess plaza was stalled last year — remember when a tree was in the way of the planned curb? It seemed at the time like a small error which the Parks Department and contractor could not come to an agreement on how to resolve. Actually it was due to a BIGGER ERROR – the mis-aligning of the Fountain. (And, as we know, other errors have caused casualties such as the repeatedly dying trees around the fountain — young trees which replaced perfectly healthy 40 year old trees in the original location.)

What else has this thrown off?

Does this just confirm that, after all, the famous Washington Square Park Fountain could have been left in its well-liked and historic original location as the “mid-point” of the park?

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Previously on WSP Blog:

* Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was still off-center to the Arch? August 7, 2008

* So … *is* the Washington Square Park Fountain aligned to the Arch? August 10, 2009

* Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Fountain is already aligned. As is, Fountain is Park’s midpoint. June 2, 2008

* What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

* Part I: Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence — What’s Going On? September 1, 2010

* Part II: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010

* Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of WSP Redesign Project as Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks October 18, 2011

Photo: J. Bary

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

Washington Square Park Redesign — Phase II’s Final Piece, The Popular Chess Plaza & SouthWest Quadrant: Has Work Just … Stopped?

Updated 12:26 p.m. — What is going on with Phase II-B, the Chess Plaza and Southwestern section, at Washington Square Park? Work has been stopped for about 3 weeks now. The chess players long ago relocated to Phase I’s NorthWest Quadrant yet it remains a mind boggling state of affairs.

When will Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II construction actually be completed?

Phase II is the middle phase of Washington Square Park’s controversial redesign, originally budgeted at $16 Million, now doubled at $32 Million and counting. Construction work on Phase II began in Fall 2009 — it was scheduled for completion initially in Fall of 2010. Earlier this year, parts of Phase II were moved into Phase III, including the Mounds, Large Dog Run, and Perimeter Sidewalks.

For Phase II-B, the landscaping hasn’t been done, no new trees or flowers have been planted, the trash cans and water fountains are still under wraps, the fence installation has stalled. It’s as if this Quadrant remains frozen in time — with no construction activity — for about 3 weeks now (after months of slow going).

Chess... Anyone?

East Side Fencing Begun... then Stopped

Fence Yet to Be Installed

Unfinished Chess Plaza

Where did everyone go??

Pathway heading South

Trash Cans Remain Under Wraps

Water fountain awaits unveiling

Long delayed Phase II-A (Eastern end of the Park) opened June 2nd.

The last completion date for Phase II-B from the city Parks Department’s press office was end of September (after a long list of roving dates) — which is, um, tomorrow (they also classified this time period as “end of summer”).

With one day left in September, can late September completion date possibly hold true? Of course, no. The dearth of work activity on this section of the park brings up many questions. Ideally, the Community Board and City Council would weigh in here — but since they have not at any point up to this, it is unlikely.

What is going on…? The Parks Department is having a difficult time getting things right lately.

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Previously on WSP Blog:

What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

Part I: Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence — What’s Going On? September 1, 2010

Part II: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010