Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Nowhere to Go, Part VI

Closed for Season II

Well, things certainly hit the fan here. The delay in posting has been due to having two tennis matches in three days, on top of the sudden and unexpected publicity of a front page, above the fold headline article in the Grand Rapids Press. Full disclosure: I did not call the Press - they contacted me originally. I did not request the Press publish their article on the front page - to be honest, I expected it would run on the second or third page of the Region section.

Press reporter Jim Harger's headline article instead ran above the fold in both Tuesday's morning Metro edition and the afternoon Final edition. (Online version unavailable.) He accurately summarized the points I have made on this site and in emails to the City Commission. The Commission debated reopening the restrooms at that afternoon's City Commission meeting.

I was hopeful that the tremendous publicity involved here would inspire the City to reopen the restrooms, but their final decison was that the expense involved was too great and they instead instructed the Parks department to furnish Aberdeen with a Port-A-Potty. A followup article in Wednesday's Press states that the Commission balked at spending an estimated $200 per month plus the cost of an employee to reopen the restrooms.

From my understanding of Parks Superintendent Zelinski's figures, this estimate has been wildly overinflated. His email, quoted in a previous post below, states that the water readiness fee, charged by the city Water Department, is $84 per month. Since I would not be opening the restroom for anyone but athletes who requested access, I find it hard to believe that we would then use $116 in water in the last two weeks of our season. (Put aside the fact that $200 should be pocket change to a city that can afford a $5,000,000 tax break for billionaires to build hotels downtown. Or the $2.5 million in tax breaks for three brownfield redevelopment projects the Commission approved Tuesday - see page B4 in the Press' Wednesday Final edition.) That being said, we will obviously make some use of the Port-A-Potty, but I think anyone who knows teenage girls can guess that they will do everything they can to avoid using it. The girls who need to change into their uniforms at the park will continue to have to do so in the back seat of each other's cars. We will still have no drinking water except that which we bring in with us (generally personal water bottles and 5-7 gallons in an insulated 10 gallon "Gatorade" jug.)

Since this is likely my last post on this issue for the time being, I would like to use this space to publicly thank Commissioner Tormala for urging the rest of the Commission to reopen the Aberdeen Park restrooms. I would like to thank Steve Pastuer of Egypt Valley Country Club for offering use of their four tennis courts. I'm afraid that Egypt Valley CC is simply too far from Creston and four courts are too few for our purposes. I also have been surprised by the support I have received from fellow coaches, school administration, family members and parents of my tennis players. I plan to continue to press the Commissioners to budget enough money to keep our public park restrooms open well into the fall next year. Ideally, they should be open from mid-April through mid-October. I urge anyone else who feels the same to contact their commissioners and tell them so.

The biggest lesson in this, in the end, is we as citizens of Grand Rapids have a duty to vote for qualified candidates (remember, we have an election this year with new faces on the ballot in several Wards) as well as to make our views known to our commissioners. They face a daunting task, trying to balance the City's budget, and without our input they will not know what we need and what we can do without. I think we need public restrooms at all our parks. Tuesday evening I was reminded again that this is not an issue effecting only the Creston tennis teams. At 6pm, as I was leaving practice, a young father with four children in tow approached the restrooms. After they tried the doors and discovered they were indeed locked, they turned and headed for their car. I introduced myself and explained the situation. The father told me that he would have to take the kids home to use the bathroom - which I'm sure meant that their evening at the park had come to a premature end. With the beautiful weather we're having as we enter fall, it's a crying shame that the City cannot find the funds that allows kids to play in the parks in comfort.


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