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Public restrooms likely coming to Spring Street

Public restrooms likely coming to Spring Street

There is $250,000 available for public restrooms in downtown Sylva. At the March 24 town board meeting, commissioners discussed detailed plans and cost estimates for the future project.

The money for public restrooms was allocated through State Capital Infrastructure Funds , direct appropriations in the state budget. According to Town Manager Paige Dowling, Mayor Linda Sossamon worked closely with state representatives to secure this money. 

At a Jan. 27 budget workshop , commissioners debated the best placement for the bathrooms. Dowling told the board that to secure the funding, they needed to decide on a location quickly. Commissioners debated the merits of building the bathroom on Spring Street between Mill and Main streets, and at the old railroad depot. By the end of the discussion, most commissioners were in favor of a Spring Street location, as it would be more easily accessible to people on Main Street. 

At the March 24 town board meeting, Mahaley Odell Thompson, a Sylva architect, presented a proposal for engineering and architectural services necessary to get the drawings for proposed Spring Street bathrooms to the point that it can go out to bid, and eventually work through the construction process. 

“How can we put bathrooms on Spring Street in a way that is accessible and visually obvious, both from Main Street and Mill Street?” asked Thompson. “Because that street is sloped, the concept is to stairstep and to have two addressing Main Street and two addressing Mill Street.”

The total cost estimate for the project, including sidewalks, steps and ramps around the building is around $400,000. Commissioner Ben Guiney asked Thompson whether it was reasonable to believe that the price would go up. 

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“It may,” said Thompson. “I think an important thing to think about is, where do you start and where do you stop? Because, let’s say we do this for $375,000, and we’ve got the building and the ramps and stuff. And then people say ‘well aren’t you going to fix the sidewalks so everything looks finished?”

Thompson said that if the town decides to close off Spring Street in order to build the bathrooms, it should think about how to reconfigure the sidewalks where the street is now, so the whole area is consistent. He imagines connecting the two pod areas on either side of Spring Street where it meets Main Street but said that is likely beyond the scope of this bathroom project. 

He suggested keeping the architecture as consistent with the character of downtown as possible throughout the design process. Other priorities are making the bathroom safe and accessible. 

“My biggest concern with that location is that it does not look like we took a street and stuck a bathroom right in the middle of it,” said Commissioner David Nestler. “But to sort of redo that whole area, not to where we still had the old sidewalks on the side and the bathroom in the middle but continue the curve all the way across so it doesn’t look like there used to be a way to turn there.”

Nestler suggested expanding the scope of the project to include both sidewalk repair and consistency into the plan. 

“I would love to do that, because I don’t like anything that, after it’s finished, people come up to me and say ‘Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that?’ I would love it to be comprehensive, everything from curb to curb,” said Thompson. 

Nestler said this would give the town an idea of a final vision, even if the town couldn’t afford the whole project at one time. 

One important point for town board members, discussed when the board was narrowing down locations in January, is that the bathrooms are ADA accessible. The proposal from Thompson shows bathrooms that are ADA accessible. 

Commissioner Greg McPherson brought up the railroad depot location discussed during the Jan. 27 meeting, asking Thompson if the town could get more value out of the project if it was constructed in that location. 

“As far as this project, where can we get the most bang for the buck? I think Spring Street is the place,” said Thompson. “Part of the reason is because the depot location is on railroad property and dealing with the railroad is going to raise hurdles, I believe, in terms of the process, in terms of construction.”

Public Works Director Jake Scott agreed with Thompson, noting that the railroad tracks would make it very difficult to create ADA accessible bathrooms. 

“For the feasibility and looking at the scope of getting people a public restroom, I’ve made my case for Spring Street and I will continue to make it,” said Scott. 

The board unanimously approved a motion to authorize Town Manager Paige Dowling to sign a contract with Thompson for design services for public restrooms in downtown Sylva. 

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