Docents Stella Dinger, left, and Mary Lee Thomson greet Davis City Councilman Brett Lee as he visits the Hattie Weber Museum on Saturday morning. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

City government

WPA bathrooms have one more hurdle: cash

By From page A1 | December 24, 2013

Hattie Weber Museum director Dennis Dingemans motions a reporter away from view, over to the back side of the old restrooms in Central Park. There, in the shadows, he demonstrates something surprising.

He reaches out his hand and presses his thumb into where a 1940s addition meets the main restroom building, built in 1937. His thumb presses into a vertical line of putty, revealing the small storage area that could be easy to demolish because the walls are not strongly connected.

It’s one of a few reasons the preservationists at the museum believe it will be easier to save the so-called WPA restrooms in Central Park than city staff estimates. The city believes the group will need to raise $35,000 to add to $14,000 the city will kick in for the job.

Preservationists have no firm numbers, but believe it will cost much less than that, especially less than a $45,000 threshold to put the project out for bid. A contractor’s estimate without making the building ADA accessible — it will be used as storage — or fixing interior dry rot came out to $3,841.

The City Council may have voted last Tuesday to enter into a partnership with preservationists to save the controversial WPA restroom building, but the success of the enterprise rests on a city-approved, professional cost estimate.

Too high, and the city may be forced to demolish the building after all. Low enough, and the rescue will be easily accomplished — preservationists have more than $5,000 already.

“The fundraising is scary on paper,” Dingemans said. “We think it is an exaggerated estimate.”

City staff disagree, saying the building needs two ADA ramps, new door frames, sealing off sewer and plumbing fixtures and other repair work.

“The reports and the estimates do not include the cost for HVAC, modifying the flatwork around the building and other unknown costs, or contingencies,” a Dec. 17 city staff report says. “Typically, historical books, papers and artifacts are stored in spaces that are not subject to extreme temperature changes.”

Mary Lee Thomson, exhibits manager at the museum, said it was ironic that the building would be closed to the public and then be required to be ADA accessible. State law requires rehabilitations to public buildings include ADA consideration.

Preservationists believe that standard doesn’t apply to small storage buildings. Besides, Dingemans points out with a tape measure, the doors measure 33 1/2 inches, more than the 32 inches of open space needed for the ADA standard.

Whatever the case, the preservationists are looking to the community for money now to save the building, constructed by the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration. Donations to the museum fall under the Yolo County Historical Society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Preservationists are also looking for matching programs from Davis residents’ employers.

So far, the donation jar and selling memorial bricks out in front of the museum are the vanguard of their fundraising campaign. Dingemans said the museum is working with an outside person to design a broader campaign as well.

— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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