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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Toilet Economics: Why Has Cost Per Restroom Jumped $53K Since '08?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge The price tag for this john in the Panhandle exceeded $531,000 - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • The price tag for this john in the Panhandle exceeded $531,000
Last week, via a series of toilet-related double-entendres, the Chronicle announced that the city's restroom commission -- yes, such a thing exists -- was ready to begin spending $7.2 million to renovate or replace 19 of the city's most wretched public lavatories.

The Chron, amazingly, never did the simple math here: That's $379,000 per restroom. Fighting the urge to utilize a toilet-related double-entendre, let us just say that this is an astounding amount of money. It's also a lot more than a fantastically expensive commode cost even two years ago; When Proposition A secured $11.4 million for neighborhood park restrooms in 2008, that was supposed to cover 35 bathrooms -- which comes to $326,000 per.

Is building lavatories a growth industry or what? How do johns' price tags soar so much in two short years? We called half a dozen members of the restroom task force. One sitting member got back to us -- Frank Triska. And he noted that some San Francisco restrooms will actually cost $700,000 to replace. Yes, you could buy the entire state of South Dakota for that kind of money, and get Tom Daschle as an indentured servant to boot. But that's not the point. 

Now, back in 2007, your humble narrator called many other cities to see how much restrooms cost there. The answer, in brief: A lot -- but less than here. One of the reasons we pay more -- aside from labor costs and buying and trucking in pre-fab johns that cost more from the get-go -- is that San Franciscans often seek input into every last procedural process of the procedure.

When neighborhood residents want a restroom 30 yards this way rather than that way, it entails tearing up and replacing electric and plumbing. Or felling trees. Or expending time and money to argue about whether or not to fell trees. Or putting in a ramp because it's hillier over there. You get the idea.

Also, San Francisco is the type of place where we have concerns about the "architectural significance" of our restrooms. So the $700,000 facilities Triska noted -- a pair of World War II-era "Public Convenience Centers" on Great Highway -- are both large and architecturally frilly. They'll stay that way -- but it won't be cheap.

When we noted that we could buy a nice house with several restrooms in it for less than $700,000, Triska didn't disagree. But he pointed out that a house isn't meant to be given the gorilla luggage treatment for half a century, and a public john is. Your toilet costs $60 -- but, Triska notes, the stainless steel toilets that'll survive for more than 10 minutes in a public lavatory can run $700. Ceramic tile is expensive, he adds -- and it's tile from floor to ceiling in public johns, because removing graffiti tags from plaster is a pain in the neck.

Finally, Triska said that the costs on the 19 restrooms in question have been thoroughly researched -- so it's no surprise that the price tags are higher than before. Why is it that things in this city never seem to end up costing less than anticipated after detailed analysis?

We will follow this story a little more; keep an eye out for toilet article No. 2. 

Photo   |   Jim Herd


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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