COLUMBIA — Cari Robertson describes the women’s restroom near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden as “cold” and “metally.”
“I just get in and get out,” said Brenda Robertson, who also uses the facility.
The bathroom — which is in the basement of a vacant building — stands in direct contrast with the park's meticulously maintained landscape; polished, bright blue mosaic monument; and new, light brown plastic benches just outside its doors.
The stalls feature metal toilets without seats or privacy doors. The sink is stainless steel as well and sports a water fountain spout instead of a traditional faucet head.
A lone shower head mounted around the corner lacks some luster.
"Right now it’s just a spigot out of a concrete wall, so we’d like to kind of redo it," Mike Griggs, park services manager, said. “We do have a lot of runners that actually like to run or bike and … they run over there and shower and then they head on to work."
On a recent visit to the restroom complex near the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail access at 800 W. Stadium Blvd., a crumpled orange Sheraton Hotels & Resorts soap wrapper sat abandoned in the toiletry nook below the shower head — proof that despite the rust around the drain and lack of privacy, it does get used.
If passed on Nov. 2, Proposition 1 would extend the city's current one-eighth cent park sales tax and provide funding for improvements to the restroom and brand new restrooms to replace portable toilets at the Garth and Grindstone nature areas.
All three projects have a combined proposed budget of $315,000. An extension of the tax would bring in roughly $2.4 million each year over a period of five years and projects would be funded on a "pay as you go" basis with the council deciding the order of importance, Griggs said.
Columbia Parks and Recreation staff has been working closely with the council since the beginning of the year to develop a list of projects that would be funded if the tax extension passes.
Bathrooms across the city seem to be a high priority.
“Garth Nature area is where the dog park is,” Griggs said. “It is heavily used, so restrooms are one of our number one requests out there.”
Philip Coleman agrees. While on his way to the dog park with his three dogs, he said, “nobody I know likes to use port-o-potties,” and added that installing restrooms would bring about “a certain permanence” to the city’s efforts to improve its parks.
The city predicts such efforts at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will cost around $85,000. That money will go toward fixing the plumbing system, replacing fixtures and possibly adding other amenities such as a soap dispenser, Griggs said, adding that the stainless steel toilets will stay.
Both the Garth and Grindstone nature areas currently sport well-kept portable toilets. Griggs said each portable toilet costs the city $100 each month to rent.
The Garth Nature Area project would cost $100,000, while the Grindstone Nature Area restroom would cost $130,000 because it is not as close to the sewer system, Griggs said.
The proposed Garth and Grindstone restrooms would be similar to those installed in 2008 near the Scott and Forum Boulevard accesses to the MKT, park development supervisor Steve Saitta said.
“We’ve had very good luck with those new restrooms, so we’re probably going to stick with that company,” he said, adding that the budget for the projects is based on using the same prefabricated designs purchased from CXT, Inc.
Griggs said all new restrooms would have the option of being heated to extend their use time, but that doesn't mean they'd be open year-round.
Some residents are indifferent to having more permanent places to potty.
“I really don’t mind one way or the other,” Robert Degnan said of the portable toilet at the Grindstone Nature Area. “I just kind of run for a half hour and I’m done.”
“I thought this one was fairly adequate last time I used it,” William Johnston said, referring to the restroom near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Although Cari and Brenda Robertson are not Columbia residents, they don’t let their opinion of the restrooms deter them from driving down from Harrisburg so Brenda’s grandchildren can run around and play on the trail during the summer months.
In tailgate-like fashion, the family frequently sets up a line of lawn chairs, drink coolers and an array of snacks on the edge of the parking lot to enjoy while the kids come and go.
“We like it, can’t you see?” Brenda said, “We have a feast.”