‘Maintenance surge,’ comfort-station challenges: What Seattle Parks told city councilmembers

(Photos from Parks slide deck, Westcrest Park before/after ‘maintenance surge’)

We’ve talked before about Seattle Parks‘ recent maintenance woes – including this report from the Alki Community Council‘s June meeting.This afternoon, Parks managers told the City Council’s Public Assets and Homelessness Committee that they’ve been catching up via what they call a “maintenance surge.” That was the first of two Parks presentations to the committee, and you can watch starting at 48 minutes into the video recording of the meeting:

Their priorities so far have been mowing, comfort-station (standalone restroom building) maintenance, graffiti removal, and trash pickup. Staffing was a major reason they got behind, Parks reps told councilmembers, but other challenges hindered their work too – like 21 rainy days in May and 19 rainy days in June. They couldn’t do anything about the weather but they have been working on hiring, starting the year with 80+ job openings in the division responsible for maintenance, filling 50 of those positions by July, and expecting to fill another 10 this month. In the first month of the “surge,” for example, they spent 688 hours on graffiti removal, almost 50 percent more than the same month last year. In the same month, they picked up 330 tons of trash in parks, up from 270 tons a year earlier. As they catch up in these areas, the next tier of priorities includes cleaning up sport courts. Here’s the slide deck with all the numbers they shared.

After that, Parks managers segued into their second presentation, about the 129 “comfort stations” around the system. Unlike the maintenance presentation, this one had a bottom line – the department is looking for more Parks District funding to accelerate replacements and cover repairs required by damage. Right now, comfort stations get replaced in an average of every 42 years; if the current $1.6 million annual budget is increased to $2.8 million, that could drop to every 34 years. The added funding recommendation also includes half a million dollars to cover arson and vandalism. Between that and maintenance/repair needs, they respond to about 1,400 work orders a year, councilmembers were told. The average comfort-station rebuild costs $540,000, Parks said. (The one that opened late last year at 57th/Alki cost $638,000 to build.) Asked how many of the others are due for replacement, interim Superintendent Christopher Williams replied, “Most.” A list of “prioritized” projects shown during the meeting (here’s the full slide deck) included two in West Seattle – Lincoln Park by the wading pool/north play area and Westcrest Park‘s south side, Parks also says it’s working on a system to remotely lock and unlock comfort stations to improve efficiency.

10 Replies to "'Maintenance surge,' comfort-station challenges: What Seattle Parks told city councilmembers"

  • M August 18, 2022 (12:46 pm)

    I would love to see the line-item billing that reflects how re-building an existing bathroom structure can cost that much.  I’m building an entire house from scratch at the moment and it’s in the same ballpark.  

  • A-Red August 18, 2022 (1:45 pm)

    I think what we’ve learned from the redevelopment of Lowman Beach Park is that visitors can just pee in the bushes.

  • Xuu206 August 18, 2022 (2:19 pm)

    I watched the entire meeting but I’m still curious if there is anything in the budget increase request for Comfort Stations that limits the funds to existing structures or if this would allow more funding to ‘place’ new comfort stations in neighborhoods as they did with Junction mini-Park which turned it into a nightmare for local residents or anyone visiting the Junction. I totally understand the increased cost of maintaining clean bathrooms in public parks, that’s valid IMO. I just still have a real nasty taste in my mouth from the Junction Park Comfort Station debacle! 

  • PS August 18, 2022 (3:11 pm)

    I live next to one of the parks that is the responsibility of the park service.  I  have little confidence in the park service being honest and trustworthy in regards to funding when I see them driving around in their new pickup trucks.  (I rarely see anyone doing any real work)  More things are accomplished by volunteers vs any park employee or contractor.

  • Park Neighbor. August 18, 2022 (5:14 pm)

    The parks worker that visits the EC Hugh’s playfield sits in the truck for 1-2 hours. All the gear in the truck to mow and trim, it rarely gets done. 

  • Kyle August 19, 2022 (12:09 pm)

    Didn’t Parks Just finish allocating funding from the Parks District a few months ago? How much funding did they allocate to comfort stations? My guess is less that 2%. I agree the comfort stations are poorly maintained. The answer is not more taxing but a reallocation of their existing funding sources.

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