Higher than expected revenue from the half-cent sales tax for Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) will fund building restrooms at the future Albert “Ray” Massey (Westside) Park playground and the newly opened Unity Park.
The WSPP funding for fiscal year 2021 was about $670,000 more than the anticipated $7.1 million, Betsy Waite, director of the WSPP program, told the Gainesville City Commission on Thursday.
The commission unanimously approved the WSPP’s recommendation to use the money to build restrooms in Unity Park, which opened in October, and near the fully accessible playground that will be built at Massey.
“If we are going to have parks and we want those parks to be used, then we need to provide the full range of facilities that allow people to want to go use a park,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said.
Each set of restrooms will cost approximately $210,000 to install.
Unity Park (1700 NE 31st Ave.) is considered a neighborhood park, and those have not typically included restrooms. However, Unity Park has been “extremely busy” since it opened.
“We think the usage is only going to increase,” Waite said. “We think providing a restroom at this particular neighborhood park is warranted.”
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, whose District 1 includes Unity Park, said several of her constituents have asked for a restroom at the park.
“They will thank you immensely for jumping on this quick, fast and in a hurry,” Duncan-Walker told Waite at the meeting.
Waite said putting restrooms in neighborhood parks has several benefits, including increasing the time people are able to spend at the park and increasing the opportunities for the park being used for birthday and other celebrations.
More restrooms in neighborhood parks also allow delivery drivers to have a safe place to use the restrooms and give park visitors a place to wash their hands.
“The pandemic has provided us with a new perspective, and parks have become more essential to our health and well-being,” Waite said.
Cleaning and maintaining similar-sized restrooms in area parks costs about $4,500 a year, Waite said.
Albert “Ray” Massey Park (1001 NW 34th St.) is a regional park and as such already has restrooms. But the city is creating a fully accessible playground at Massey that will accommodate children with disabilities and mobility challenges.
Adding a restroom near to the playground will make it possible for more people to use the new play area.
“One thing we kept hearing from the care providers was that a restroom is absolutely needed close to the future playground,” Waite said.
In addition, both new sets of restrooms will have adult-rated changing tables. The idea to add the heavier duty changing tables was first developed in talking with community members about the fully accessible playground as a way to help accommodate older, special needs children, Waite said.
However, Duncan-Walker and Commissioner Reina Saco suggested adding the same style of changing tables to the Unity Park restrooms.
Saco said she thinks that the city should include similar changing tables whenever it upgrades or adds restrooms to parks.