The comfort station at Elmhurst Park, at the former site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks, was originally quoted at just under $2 million in July 2010. The city has since raised the price tag to nearly $2.3 million. And parkgoers continue a scramble to find places to relieve themselves nine months after the park opened.
“Two million dollars seems obscene,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which waged a nearly decade-long campaign to block commercial developers and convert the area into park land.
“Anybody in private industry who looked at this building would laugh,” Holden added.
The park should have been equipped with a bathroom from the outset, he said, so that visitors would have facilities available as soon as the park opened.
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“This is something we’ve learned to put up with in the City of New York,” Holden said. “This thing about wasting money on capital projects, it doesn’t get fixed and it goes on and on. This comfort station is a testament to that.”
The Parks Department defended the cost
“We follow the city’s rules when procuring projects and select the lowest responsible bidder,” an agency spokesman said. “The costs of this building per square foot are similar to those of other new comfort stations.”
Agency officials attributed the cost to installing brand new utilities, and said “unique challenges of building on a former industrial site” hindered them from having the restrooms ready when the park opened.
The cost of the project has not actually changed, the spokesman noted, since the original 2010 budget included only construction and contingency fees. It did not include so-called “soft costs,” which include design fees, soil testing and land surveys.
“With the cost and the time they’ve taken, you could have built entire parks,” said Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group. “The city has to manage these contracts much better. They’re just flushing money down the toilet.”
He echoed Holden’s sentiment that the city exercised poor planning by not having a facility built by the time the park was unveiled. Croft said he has seen people in the park using lawns and trees to relieve themselves.
The comfort station, which has an abstract architectural style, will “reflect the playful, curving geometries and gentle swales of Elmhurst Park’s design,” the Parks Department spokesman said.
Holden said he would have liked something more nostalgic than modern, but that he will reserve judgment until he sees the finished project.
“It would have been nice to put up something reminiscent of the gas tanks,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see what it looks like.”
The facility is slated to open in June.