We congratulate the town of Damariscotta on the completion of its effort to fund the construction of public restrooms downtown.
Downtown Damariscotta needs restrooms – just ask the long-suffering guardians of the existing public restrooms at Sherman’s and Skidompha.
The drive for public restrooms in Damariscotta dates back nearly a quarter-century, as does the debate about how to pay for them and the opposition from folks who view public restrooms as a nuisance rather than a convenience.
The funding of this project represents a major accomplishment, and the town and its leadership deserve great credit.
Moreover, nearly two-thirds of the budget will come from private sources, which should please taxpayers.
The budget for the construction of the building and improvements to nearby Taco Alley totals approximately $238,000, according to Town Manager Matt Lutkus. Of the $238,000, about $60,000 will come from a municipal bond, $17,300 from the state in the form of a Small Harbor Improvement Program grant, and $11,000 from the town’s savings for the project, for a total of about $88,300 in public funds.
The balance of about $149,700 will come from private gifts.
The budget will allow for a “very high-quality building” consistent with donors’ wishes, Lutkus said. The town plans to consider brick, to match some of the older structures downtown, or a classic New England structure with wood shingles.
“We want to set the standard for aesthetics for the back side of downtown,” Lutkus said.
The town won’t skimp on the building’s interior either. Good news for young parents: each of the four restrooms will have a changing table.
The project will come at a cost – namely, a valuable slice of parking real estate.
The little lot where the town plans to build the restrooms often offers a space when the rest of the municipal parking lot is full, probably because many motorists don’t realize it’s part of the public lot.
The town will lose the lot’s eight spaces, but add three spaces perpendicular to Main Street for a net loss of five.
There will also be some ongoing cost to clean and maintain the facility, though the town plans to make the building as automated and maintenance-free as possible.
The public works crew will clean the facility, which the town expects to take less than an hour a day. The police department’s parking officers will check on the building during their patrols.
The town will have its work cut out for it, as the cleanliness and safety of the building will have a great impact on the reception from skeptics.
There are still some questions about the restrooms. The town has yet to determine whether to keep the restrooms open year-round or close them during the winter. The hours are another unknown. Lutkus said the town’s “wish list” would have the restrooms open from 6 a.m. until 10-11 p.m.
Some of these questions may find answers as the project, like any private development, goes before the Damariscotta Planning Board for review in the months ahead.
With all the exciting projects in our community – some with budgets in the millions rather than thousands – the construction of a few restrooms might seem like a small thing. But it is a big thing for this community, an important accomplishment in itself as well as a major symbolic step forward for efforts to improve both the appearance and function of Damariscotta’s waterfront.