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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 1 month ago

St. Armands leaders waver on bathroom costs

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After spending years pursuing the right to build free-standing public restrooms, the St. Armands Business Improvement District has concerns about the cost.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Is $480,000 a fair price for constructing a two-building, three-stall public restroom in a median on St. Armands Circle? It’s up for debate.

On Jan. 13, the St. Armands Business Improvement District discussed the construction bids it received for a bathroom project it’s been pursuing in one form or another for the better part of a decade. After settling on a design and location and setting aside $300,000 to build it, some BID board members expressed concerns about moving forward after learning about the higher-than-expected construction costs.

“I would have never supported this at $500,000,” board member Gavin Meshad said. “I would have never let it go this far if I thought in my wildest dreams it would have been this much money.”

The board voted to prepare a contract with Magnum Builders of Sarasota, which submitted a low construction price of $480,877 among the eight companies that responded to the city’s invitation to bid. But although the BID will consider approving the contract, it did not commit to moving forward with the project, instead opting to investigate alternate solutions.

Matt D’Angelo, the project engineer with architectural and engineering firm CPH, said the quoted costs exceeded the estimates in part because of the difficulties of building in the median at John Ringling Boulevard and South Washington Drive. City Purchasing Manager David Boswell listed the low elevation, the need to work around traffic and the lack of easy utility hookups as challenges.

Meshad suggested the BID could pause its pursuit of a permanent restroom facility in favor of a temporary option. The group of property owners received cost estimates pegging the price of renting a three-stall portable trailer restroom at $30,000 for six months. The BID also agreed to explore leasing commercial space on Fillmore Drive to procure restrooms that are open to the public.

Meshad said that sort of alternative could better inform the BID’s long-term decision-making on the matter of bathrooms.

“It could be that we use [a portable restroom], and we say, ‘You know, it’s not getting used as much as we thought; thank God we didn’t spend a half a million dollars on a permanent facility,’” Meshad said. “Or, ‘Guess what, it’s being used more than we thought, and it reconfirms the fact that we need to solve this problem permanently.’”

BID member Mindy Kauffman was in favor of moving forward with a permanent structure. Kauffman noted that the group has been working on this for years, motivated by calls from St. Armands stakeholders. Diana Corrigan, the executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said merchants wanted the BID to follow through on its promise.

“They said, ‘Just build the damn bathroom,’” Corrigan said. “‘We don’t care how much it costs. Just build the damn bathroom.’”

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