waste management

No Relief as Pricey Park Bathrooms Put Pressure on Taxpayers

This public bathroom in Ferry Point Park cost nearly $5 million to build.
This public bathroom in Ferry Point Park cost nearly $5 million to build. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

New York City completed its most expensive park bathroom ever last year: a $4.7 million facility at The Bronx’ Ferry Point Park West. Now, a $6 million loo is on tap for Staten Island’s Seaside Wildlife Nature Park.

A review of capital projects reveals a pipeline of park bathrooms growing steadily in estimated cost.

And there’s no relief in sight.

THE CITY found that the typical city Parks Department bathroom – a no-frills rectangular structure with four walls, several toilets and a number of hand-washing sinks – costs taxpayers just under $3.6 million on average.

That’s nearly triple the $1.3 million average spent by the Parks Department in 2011.

“It’s a borderline astronomical cost — but at the end of the day, we’re paying those costs everywhere,” City Council Member Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) told THE CITY.

He said the Seaside Wildlife bathroom in Great Kills is so costly largely because of post-Superstorm Sandy flood zone requirements. He noted that he proudly advocated for the restroom because his constituents have contributed their taxes to pricey projects citywide.

“Where they probably could have gotten away with a $3 million project – the normal, overpriced bathroom – this has to be [physically] elevated,” he said. “So it kind of stinks.”

Racking-up Costs

The Ferry Point Park restroom — just a stone’s throw from the public Trump Golf Links course and the Whitestone Bridge — wasn’t only expensive: It also took 12 years to complete.

A contract for the $4.7 million structure shows the bills added up quickly, with the metal roofing alone running over $460,000. A five-wave bike rack, installed nearby, was listed in the document as running $6,000. Similar racks retail online for $450.

Parks Department spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson said the Ferry Point Park bathroom had elements that raised the cost, including flood zone requirements and an accessibility ramp.

But agency records show at least five other bathroom projects in development pegged at between $3 million and $5 million each.

These include facilities started in January in Harlem River Park in Manhattan, and one started in April 2015 at Lincoln Terrace Park in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, a tidy brick restroom at Aqueduct Walk in Fordham Heights in The Bronx is nearing completion for roughly $1 million – demonstrating a wide variance.

The cost gaps are driven home by the price of the bike rack installed there: It’s the same style as the one at Ferry Point Park, but far cheaper at $1,500.

The bike rack on the left is at Ferry Point Park in Throggs Neck, the one on the right is at Aqueduct Walk in Fordham Heights. Photo: Ben Fractenberg and Yoav Gonen/THE CITY

Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver has said the increased flow of taxpayer dollars toward bathrooms stems directly from market forces out of his agency’s control.

“The costs are something we grapple with as well. We do not tell contractors what number to give us — they determine what the market bears,” he told lawmakers at a City Council preliminary budget hearing on March 8. “We put the project out to bid — these are the numbers that we’re getting. It’s concerning us as well.”

Silver said the agency recently implemented a “standardized design” as a cost-saving measure on comfort stations. But he acknowledged it can take up to a year to assign any kind of project for design within the agency because of the high volume of work.

“On average we get well over 100 projects per year,” Silver said at the hearing. “We wait for staff to become available so they can start the design.”

Red Tape Means More Green

Former Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who served from 2002 to 2012, credited Silver with trying to resolve a longstanding problem. But he said Silver’s up against an ingrained bureaucracy and cumbersome procurement process.

The Parks contracts are reviewed by at least five government entities – including the City Law Department – each of which can delay a project by months.

“Comfort stations were the bane of my existence. They took forever,” said Benepe. “There’s a built-in inefficiency at every level and too many reviews.”

The $1 million public bathroom in Aqueduct Walk near 182 Street in The Bronx.
The $1 million public bathroom in Aqueduct Walk near 182 Street in The Bronx. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

NYC Parks Advocates’ Geoffrey Croft said those bureaucratic headaches – including the potential one-year wait just to move from approval to design – prompt contractors to raise their bids on park projects.

“There’s no way to explain it. It’s not inflation. It’s not cost of materials. The word is out that you can charge these guys exorbitant prices,” Croft told THE CITY.

On a recent sunny but chilly Wednesday at 10:30 am, the men’s and women’s rooms at Ferry Point Park were locked. The glass in one of the outdoor light fixtures was broken.

Parkgoers said the restrooms are typically inaccessible in the winter. Nissan sales manager Steve Madrid said he was stunned by the $4.7 million sticker price.

“For the bathroom? Wow, that’s crazy. That’s not reasonable at all — especially if it’s only seasonal,” said Madrid, 27, who often walks his dog, Luna, in the park. “It seems pretty small [physically] for that amount as well. That money should definitely go somewhere else.”

Sam Tang, 65, said he had been inside the restroom on past visits and that it was a standard, simple facility.

“I can’t believe that restroom cost $4.7 million. That’s too much money for that,” said Tang. “Really, that’s $4.7 million?”

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