Friday, December 26, 2014

No easy task: History buffs still trying to save building

Hattie RestroomW

Efforts are still underway to convert the old restroom building in Central Park, foreground, as storage space for the adjacent Hattie Weber Museum. Preservationists say the restrooms were built by the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | August 22, 2014 |

Sometimes in a partnership with government agencies, there is more involved than meets the eye for private groups.

That’s what local historical preservationists are finding out about their joint effort with the city to remodel the so-called WPA restrooms in Central Park. As it stands now, the restroom building, which is more than 70 years old, is more than somewhat dilapidated, often fragrant and in need of a contractor’s love.

The restrooms are named the WPA restrooms because many in town believe they were built by the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, but city officials and others are not so sure. Still, the name has stuck through the whole controversial saga to transform an old bathroom facility into a storage area for the adjacent Hattie Weber Museum.

Preservationists, mostly affiliated with the museum, initially believed they could easily raise enough money to combine with the city’s promised $14,000 to reboot the 441-square-foot building. Emboldened by one local contractor’s estimate, they pushed for and won a partnership with the city by order of the City Council late last year.

Since then, the preservationists have run into one hurdle after another, as they discover the process of partnering with a public entity runs into red tape and meticulous regulations designed to protect taxpayer money from cronyism, ensure federally mandated access for people with disabilities and prevent slapdash construction of public projects.

Along the way, contributions and a museum reserve fund have merged to create a $17,000 head-start for the history buffs to raise the necessary money — as yet unknown — by April 2015 to launch their project. While $5,000 of that pot will go toward demolishing a shade lattice structure around the restroom building, that move highlights the progress the preservationists are making toward their goal.

But the goal remains just that, so far, without the required information to know just how much the remodel will cost and when to start asking the community for the big bucks.

Being tied to the city to remodel the restrooms into a storage building has been nerve-wracking for the museum folks, who are always uncertain about whether the next step in the process will bring more roadblocks and more expense. So far, that’s been the case, making them feel like they’re in the back seat of the whole effort.

For example, take the bidding process for an architect’s design for the tiny building: Mary Lee Thomson, a preservationist taking part of the lead on the project, said the bids for the architectural plans went out to four companies.

One didn’t send back a bid. One didn’t submit a bid that contained what the city’s bid asked for. One wanted $55,000, far exceeding the $30,000 to $40,000 probable cost of remodeling the tiny building, Thomson said, and making the history buffs scratch their heads about how hard it could be to draw up plans for a few walls and empty space.

Anne Brunette, an engineering liaison working for the city and handling the information needed for the preservationists, said in an email that the architectural plans are just one of the first steps in the remodeling process that must be followed if $14,000 in public funds are to be used and if the future building is to meet city codes.

Following the hiring process for an architect, the architect will draw up plans and determine, supporters hope, an accurate final cost. These pieces of the puzzle will be paid for by the preservationists.

Then there is the bidding process for the eventual contractor, the hiring of the contractor and the actual work, most of which will be paid for by the preservationists.

And that’s another concern for the history buffs. Museum Director Dennis Dingemans said people around town they’ve talked to about the project think it’s a done deal and that nothing more needs to be done by the public.

Wrong, he said: The museum needs money, but until the architect’s estimate comes in, supporters can’t set their goal and raise money in earnest.

City Councilman Brett Lee said the city’s partnership with the preservationists is running as it should be, but it could be an object lesson for other nonprofits in how to view public-private partnerships in the future.

Building on the public dime involves a lot more than the often simpler process of doing it privately.

“When you work with the city, the city has to go through all these added steps,” Lee said.

But Lee, who has supported the preservationists’ partnership with the city since the beginning, is optimistic there will be a happy ending for everyone involved.

“At the end of the day, it will be a good, sturdy building,” he said.

How do you help? Call the museum at 530-758-5637, or make a donation payable to the Yolo County Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and send it to the Hattie Weber Museum, 445 C St., Davis, CA 95616.

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



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