Elmhurst Park opened to much fanfare in June 2011, with Mayor Bloomberg himself showing up to cut the ribbon on the six acres that once housed the Elmhurst gas tanks famed in song, story and morning drive-time radio traffic reports.
But eight months later, some residents are questioning why they still are using portable toilets while the $2.3 million restroom building remains under construction at the park’s north end — and just why it is costing $2.3 million.
“I wonder why it wasn’t done when the park was completed,” asked Maspeth resident Rita Buckley, one of several moms with young children at the park’s playground on Tuesday.
She said when her son had to use the toilet, they had no choice but to head to the south end of the park where the portables still are located.
“It’s inconvenient, but there’s no other place to go around here, so you have no choice,” Buckley said. “And they haven’t been changed, so it wasn’t really clean.”
A spokesman for the city’s Parks Department said in a statement issued Tuesday that the restrooms are scheduled, under contract, to be completed this summer.
The spokesman said the park was “universally praised by local elected officials, civic leaders and community advocates when its second phase opened in June.”
The statement said the comfort station, considered phase three, is expected to be on time and within budget “at a cost per square foot that is comparable to other public works facilities.”
The statement also said work on the building could only begin after construction of the park itself was completed, with the land properly graded and new utility lines for electricity, water and sewers run to the property.
The Parks Department statement included a copy of the Certificate to Proceed on the restroom project from the city’s Office of Management and Budget.
The certificate, dated July 7, 2010, sets a construction cost limit for the restrooms at $1.98 million.
While the spokesman did not comment further, the certificate does not include costs for things like design work, engineering and other related items.
Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, was one of the leaders of the effort to turn the property into a park when then-owners Key-Span Energy intended to sell it for retail and business space anchored by a Home Depot.
And while Holden also praises the park, he does not quite take the Parks Department’s explanations for the time and money involved at face value.
Not that he was looking for the restroom facilities to be just some inexpensive Spartan structure of brick and cinderblock.
“I would have liked something that reminded people of the gas tanks,” Holden said nostalgically. “But $2 million, $2.3 million is out of line. Parks will tell you they have to do things like utilities. It’s not the Parks Department — the city has to abide by rules and regulations it puts into place and the costs soar out of whack.”
He cited an example from about 10 years ago when the JPCA contacted the city about building a two-car garage-type structure to house Juniper Valley Park equipment, and was told it would cost $1.1 million.
“So we built a steel garage for $50,000, and included netting to protect the playground from batted balls,” he said. “The city said the netting alone would cost $50,000. We’re used to this.”