Original gender-neutral design modified
Discussions about design of the new Winthrop public library have focused on a lot of features — designated areas for teens and kids, more book stacks, public meeting spaces, acoustics, parking, access. Bathrooms didn’t get a lot of attention.
That is, until questions were raised about the original bathroom design: a single gender-neutral room with four separate, private stalls (one of them ADA accessible) and an open area with sinks.
“Some people were uncomfortable with the original plan,” Winthrop librarian Sally Portman told the Winthrop Town Council last week.
In a Jan. 2 memo to the council, Friends of the Winthrop Public Library (FOWL), the nonprofit group that is raising funds to build the library, noted that the mayor and council had expressed two concerns: the bathroom design, and potential noise levels. According to the memo, Mayor Sally Ranzau asked the town’s building inspector, Mark Straub, for an opinion as to whether the original design met requirements of the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC). Straub’s opinion was that it would not.
FOWL noted that “in contrast to the UPC, the International Plumbing Code (IPC) has new amendments for its 2021 version that refute this [the town’s] interpretation. The changes to the IPC, which have been adopted by 35 U.S. states … clearly and concisely allow ‘for the installation of all-gender, multi-user restrooms in public buildings.’ Washington state has not yet adopted these amendments, although many municipalities within our state have proactively adopted these changes, and several commercial and public establishments within the Methow Valley have installed gender-neutral bathrooms.”
Although FOWL and its architects supported the gender-neutral design for a variety of reasons, “ultimately we have submitted an alternative design to comply,” FOWL said in the memo. The second design was for two separate bathrooms for men and women, each with two stalls (one of them ADA accessible) and a changing table. But that had implications, FOWL said in its memo.
The impacts, FOWL said, included making the entry way smaller (the bathrooms will be in the public area between the library space and meeting facilities); eliminating the catering area; and reducing the size of a FOWL alcove for publications, promotions and items for sale.
As to noise concerns, FOWL noted that Johnston Architects, partnering with Prentiss Balance Wickline to design the facility, has four decades of experience designing dozens of libraries, and is confident that acoustics can be managed appropriately.
At last week’s meeting, Ranzau said that she met with representatives of the architecture team to seek a third alternative for public bathrooms. The architects’ updated proposal now calls for three separate, one-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms, one of which would be ADA accessible and have a changing table. The other two single bathrooms would also have changing tables. Ranzau said Straub concluded that such a design would conform with the town’s existing plumbing code. (The library space itself will also have a separate bathroom for children, and one for library staff.)
The council, which is required to sign off on the library’s design, asked to see revised drawings from the architect before approving the overall design including the public bathrooms.
In other business, the council approved a dispatch services agreement with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office for the town’s share of the service’s costs.
In a memo to the town, the Okanogan County commissioners noted that recent voter approval of a small increase in the county’s retail sales tax, designated for upgrading and maintaining the countywide emergency services communications network, allows a portion of the tax proceeds to offset the costs charged to towns and fire districts.
According to the commissioners’ memo, Winthrop’s portion before the new sales tax is applied would have been $14,839 in 2019. Applying the sales tax proceeds would reduce that to $4,195. Twisp’s charge would have been reduced from $20,368 to $5,198. Charges to Okanogan County Fire District 6 and Aero Methow Rescue Service would also be substantially reduced.
The contract structure will be revised in 2021, the memo from the commissioners note.
The council also agreed to opt into a new state program that creates a local fund to support affordable housing, at no additional cost to the towns or taxpayers.
The new program, adopted the state Legislature in its 2019 session, provides that the towns will be reimbursed a small portion of the sales taxes they already collect that can be applied to a fund for affordable housing initiatives. The state set a reimbursement rate of 0.0073%; towns can optionally increase that to 0.0146% with voter approval. The funds must be spent on projects that serve persons whose income is at or below 60% of the area’s median income.
Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said opting in at the 0.0073% would generate about $3,500 for Winthrop in 2020. “We could have a good conversation about where to use this,” she said. Possibilities include rent subsidies, credits toward system development fees, or assisting the Methow Housing Trust, she said.