Apalachicola this week became the proud home of the Louvre of lavatories, the Taj Mahal of toilets, the Coliseum of commodes.
Even as the rain pelted the asphalt outside, Willie and Monica Poloronis were busy on Labor Day putting the finishing touches on the new public bathrooms on Commerce Street, adjacent to the Sponge Exchange and the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts, formerly the Cotton Warehouse.
Willie was helping to power wash the outside premises, while Monica was on her knees, cleaning spots on the gleaming tile floor. These two principal owners of Poloronis Construction have been hands-on like that over the past five months, overseeing the work of creating a functional, safe, inviting, and, historically appealing, structure.
On Tuesday evening, at the city commission meeting, commissioners approved the project’s only change order, an additional $4,884 charge, which will bring the cost of the structure in at about $325,000, including a $10,000 grant for architectural services from the Tourist Development Council.
Funding for the project came from a Community Development Block Grant for community revitalization, obtained through the efforts of Deborah Belcher, the city’s grant writer.
Completion of the project comes just days before the deadline, not surprising considering the record rainfall this summer.
“Six weeks of ridiculous rain this summer probably slowed things down,” said Mark Tarmey, with 4M Design Group. “I am very impressed with the quality. I think they did a real good job.”
Architect Tarmey served as a sub consultant for Jim Waddell, of Inovia, the project’s prime consultant.
Working on the project as subcontractors were Eastpoint’s King’s Plumbing, and Carrabelle’s R. Gray & Associates for electrical work. To handle the extensive brick work, done of wood mold, not wire cut, brick from South Georgia, Poloronis turned to Tinker and Tinker Masonry of Panacea.
“It looks reclaimed,” said Tarmey. “We took all the tones and the hues, of the Cotton Warehouse and Sponge Exchange.”
Tarmey recounted how the project began several years ago, but the original plans were set aside as city officials and Planning and Zoning reimagined the project.
“When we finished we weren’t proud of that design,” he said. “This is a much better building for the city architecturally. I think what it does is it responds to the things that we have been supporting in the city, as how downtown should be redeveloped.
“I feel like the restroom building looks more like what would have been there and what fits into downtown,” he said, noting that the city went through a period where deteriorating wood or masonry buildings were often replaced by less rugged structures, or treated to vinyl siding.
“They don’t talk to the permanence of the city when you do that you do that for economy,” said Tarmey. “I’m a big believer in the way things were done. It was an investment, that the city was proud of its heritage and had some sense of permanence.”
The architect was careful to note that “we’re not trying to create some false illusion of historicity, not trying to create some sort of falsely historic things.
“It’s all made to have that sort of waterfront signature,” he said. “There’s no single one thing that’s the design element. It’s the sum of the parts, they’re understated but they look compatible.”
Putting in a 34-foot long ramp for wheelchairs took extensive work, and meant building up to federal flood plain standards of eight feet. “Street level is about five or six feet, and we had to be two to three feet over that level,” said Tarmey. “I think that was a pretty sensitive way to manage it.”
With about a half-dozen public restroom’s under his firm’s belt, including a few on the interstate, Tarmey said the designers had a handle on what would work and what wouldn’t.
“We’ve learned that people do ridiculous things in public bathrooms,” he said. “We’ve learned the need to mute the colors and use durable materials designed to help the city maintain the public restroom over its life span. To defeat graffiti and help keep it sanitary and clean.”
The design features high density porcelain, true porcelain, which means its colors are all the way from back to front. “We do that because people get sick, every once in a while a toilet will get plugged up, and we can get it back to sanitary conditions as quickly as possible.
“We know when we use lighted surfaces people tend to write graffiti on them,” he said.
Key to the project was adding a low-cost, low maintenance air conditioning and dehumidification system, to keep the air fresh, open and airy, not dank and moist.
“It was a very smart decision, easier to maintain overall,” Tarmey said.
Sensors will detect when the air conditioning gets above certain humidity levels, just as they will kick on the lights when someone enters the door, and shut off after they leave, or when the toilet needs flushing. “People forget to do that in a public restroom,” he said.
There are plenty of aspects that are vandal resistant, and city officials acknowledge that maintaining cleanliness and public safety is primary among their concerns.
“It’s a very key piece in supporting tourism, to have comfortable things downtown,” said Tarmey. “They stay longer, or they decide to spend the night instead of going back today.”