BERLIN — Hoping to address what has been labeled the “No. 1 complaint” from visitors to Berlin, the Town Council unanimously approved a $104,528 contract with Joshi Construction Monday for the renovation of the public restrooms at town hall.
While Berlin has been experiencing a “renaissance” over the past few years, according to Mayor Gee Williams, that spirit of rebirth has stopped just short of the town’s aging public bathrooms.
“The number of people walking the streets, shopping and supporting our local business has never been to this level in the history of the town,” said Williams. “It’s embarrassing when they go in those restrooms.”
Likewise with town events, several of which have been added to the calendar over the last few years and most of which have been heavily attended, Williams said that visitors are reporting having a great time but have been universally disappointed with the state of the restrooms.
“I think we are trying to do things with a touch of class and our restrooms send the opposite message clearly,” he said.
Economic and Community Development Director Michael Day reported similar feedback from visitors who were upset by the worn down and cramped restrooms.
“This is up in the top two complaints that we get about downtown,” he told the council.
The second major complaint, store hours, is beyond the town’s control, admitted Day. But having modern restrooms is something that the council is able to control and would heavily appeal to the crowds that Berlin has been bringing in the past few years, he added.
“The restrooms are the No. 1 complaint we’ve gotten form our visitors this past summer especially,” Day said.
Besides the aesthetics, a restroom renovation has practical purpose as well. With the current set-up, plumbing blockages occur “almost on a weekly basis,” according to Water Resources Director Jane Kreiter. The poor design of the restrooms at town hall lead to frequent troubles and are a drain on town resources and staff time and are often made unavailable for public use, she said.
The current bathrooms are also harder to use for disabled visitors then the new ones will be, noted councilmember Lisa Hall.
“They need to be handicap accessible,” she said.
Because of that need, Kreiter told the council that a stall will have to be removed from the ladies room. However, both restrooms will be more spacious and include a baby changing station.
The total cost for the project is $104,528, with approximately $47,000 of that being pulled from the town’s contingency fund. The remainder of the cost will be covered by a Community Development Block Grant. Construction is expected to begin this month and the renovation should be completed within 45 days of the town sending Joshi Construction a notice to proceed.