Conway parks to get upgraded restroom facilities

By Tammy Keith Originally Published July 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 24, 2013 at 1:48 p.m.
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CONWAY — Conway has several parks, but many have inadequate restroom facilities, or none.

Mayor Tab Townsell said there is a plan to change that.

Curtis Walker Park’s facilities in east Conway “seemed to be the priority of the [City] Council,” Townsell said.

The $236,000 project is under construction, he said.

“It’s more substantial than people realize,” Townsell said. “We’re trying to make very nice restrooms, not just trying to put in the cheapest, most utilitarian ones. We’re not taking them the cheapest route.”

The building will have an eave for park attendees to stand underneath if it’s raining, he said.

The park includes a lighted youth football field and baseball field, basketball courts and more.

Steve Ibbottson, director of Conway Parks and Recreation, said the old bathrooms were demolished.

“The bathrooms were a constant maintenance issue,” he said.

The other restroom is going to be built at Conway Station Park, which is in its third year of operation as a boys baseball park.

Townsell said there are bathroom facilities in the eastern fourplex of fields, but no bathroom facilities were built for the southwestern fourplex. The park also includes a larger, single field.

“We’ve got in design, ready to build, a restroom facility that will serve those southwestern fourplex of ball fields in Conway Station Park,” Townsell said.

He said the problem with the one location wasn’t realized until the field started being used.

“For families dragging three, four little siblings, or for a grandparent in a walker or wheelchair, it becomes more of an issue,” he said.

The complex is becoming a regional draw for ball tournaments, too, he said.

Ibbottson said the plan includes men’s and women’s restrooms, along with a family restroom.

The project, estimated to cost $160,000, will also have a small concession-serving area.

“They’ll prepare everything in the big one and bring it over and keep it warm, so people won’t have to go so far to get a drink or get a bite to eat or go to the restroom,” Ibbottson said.

Townsell said the city’s other park facilities either have older restrooms, including Laurel Park off Robinson Avenue, or no restrooms.

Ibbottson said portable toilets have been placed at parks without facilities.

The mayor said “cookie-cutter” plans are being drawn by Conway architect Rik Sowell for restrooms at those parks. That way, he said, the city can save money by bidding on projects as needed without going back to the drawing board.

“What we’ve tried to do is come up with a standard, but unique and attractive, restroom plan,” he said, “to go back in and replace older bathrooms with these new, nice, updated restroom facilities and to place them in parks that don’t have them currently.

“We have it drawn; it’s being priced out right now to see what it will cost if it goes to bid,” Townsell said.

It either will be bid or “we go back and redesign it, because it may be too expensive,” he said.

Ibbottson said the drawing will include an overhang area that can be enclosed and used for an office, if needed.

“It will have a little covered area off to one side where we might put a park bench or something there,” he said.

“That’s what we’ll end up doing at Beaverfork [Park],” he said, which now has two buildings.

However, Ibbottson said, Laurel Park “will be our first priority.”

“I’m hoping within this year, we’ll have Laurel Park being constructed and possibly complete,” he said.

Townsell has said that Laurel Park is Conway’s most-used park.

Conway resident Janet Crow said she believes park bathrooms, particularly at Laurel Park, should have been completed before the city spent $33,000 on bronze statues for downtown Conway.

Crow said in an email, “I have nothing against artwork …. I have repeatedly spoken and emailed the council over the years at the deplorable condition of the public park restrooms in Conway and been assured plans are under way to fix them.”

The $33,000 used to buy the 10 statues, depicting children and/or toads, came from Advertising and Promotion funds.

The statues are in City Hall waiting for a public-art committee to help decide where to place them.

Townsell said the money for the bathrooms will come from either the city’s portion of A&P funds, or from park impact fees for new construction of bathrooms at parks that don’t have facilities.

Crow sent emails, including a photo of the restroom at Laurel Park, to aldermen when a story was published about the bronze statues, objecting to the use of funds for those instead of bathrooms.

City Council members Shelia Whitmore and Mary Smith replied.

Crow wrote to Smith and contended that the council “should have passed on spending $33,000 on the very nice bronze statues. If I am at Laurel Park with small children, I’d much rather have a decent restroom than a bronze. Wouldn’t you?”

A bronze of children sitting on a bench likely will be placed there, the mayor said.

Smith replied to Crow that the money is available and the design has been completed for the Laurel Park bathroom renovation.

“We’re in the bid process at this time,” Smith wrote to Crow, in part. “While we will not come to a consensus on the bronze statues, money was set aside for those as well. They will be a nice added look to the downtown area.”

However, Laurel Park is not yet in the bid process, Ibbottson said.

“We have all the drawing and bid specs, so once we get the preliminary pricing, we’ll be moving forward on the bid process,” he said.

Crow sent the same email to Whitmore.

Whitmore replied, in part: “We have funds in the budget for bathrooms at Laurel Park. Not sure if you were at the meeting when we voted on the expenditure for the statues, but that would have been time to address this, not after the fact. It’s unfortunate that the statues arrived before the bids and completion of the bathrooms. It’s all about timing.”

Crow responded to Whitmore, via email, that she did express her opinion at the time. “It’s not about timing — it is really about prioritizing on the front end,” Crow wrote.

Townsell said the $33,000 for the statues could have been put toward the restrooms, but that would have been about 20 percent of the amount needed for the work at one park.

He said parks are important to a good quality of life in a city, but public art is, too.

“That’s why we have an eight-member council,” he said of the decision.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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