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County pays twice as much for Three Rivers restrooms

County pays twice as much for Three Rivers restrooms

Supervisors approve $482,000 to provide first public restrooms in gateway community to Sequoia National Park

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

THREE RIVERS – Tulare County is pushing forward on a plan to build public restrooms in Three Rivers despite having to spend nearly double the original estimates. 

In June 2018, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a $250,000 donation to the Three Rivers Historical Society to install public restrooms at its museum, 42268 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198) in Three Rivers. At its Aug. 13 meeting, Supervisors approved a contract for just short of $482,000 to build the restrooms, including the structure as well as the underground work. The item was pulled from last week’s Consent Calendar by Supervisor Pete Vander Poel to provide an explanation as to why the project came in so far over budget.

“The $1,661 per-square foot seems a little high,” Vander Poel said. “In Springville, the historical museum would jump up and down.”

Dennis Lehman, capital projects manager for the County’s Resource Management Agency (RMA), said the high cost of the project is due to the need for an upgraded electrical system, foundation, water system, septic system, and ADA compliant parking stalls.

“Restrooms tend to be the projects with the  highest cost,” Supervisor Eddie Valero said.

When the bids were opened on July 20, a total of three bids were received. The lowest came from Dale Atkins Contractor for $478,700 but it didn’t include any construction work or underground work beneath Highway 198, permit and construction fees, fees for coordinating with CalTrans, traffic plans, etc. The supervisors awarded the contract to the lowest, responsible bidder in Sierra Range Construction at a cost of $481,910.99. The third bid for $662,000 was provided by Divcon Inc. The money will be included in the 2018-19 budget and come out of the County Administrative Office Miscellaneous Administration Account. 

“The initial dollar amount was taken out of the sky,” said Kuyler Crocker, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “It wasn’t based on any practical matters.”

Tom Marshall, president of the museum’s board of directors, said the $250,000 estimate was provided by RMA two years ago and the delay in starting the project is what caused the increase in cost. Cindy Howell with the Three Rivers Community Services District (CSD) said the lack of restrooms have been a problem since she moved to the community as a young girl. She said the CSD donated $22,500 to the museum to complete a public restroom project they had started more than a decade ago and were unable to complete.

Marshall said the public restroom is vital to tourism in Three Rivers and the county overall. Once built, the restrooms would be the first public restrooms in the gateway community to Sequoia National Park, which welcomes more than 2 million visitors per year.

“Businesses refer people here to the museum to use the restroom,” Marshall said. 

The Three Rivers Museum has been open for 17 years and acts as a county visitor center for the area before people enter the federal lands, and the number of visitors continues to grow. The museum served more than 5,600 visitors in 2015, which more than doubled to 12,700 last year. The museum is also a popular stop for the Sequoia Shuttle. In 2017, 13 percent of the overall ridership boarded the shuttle at the museum, according to the City of Visalia.

Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, who represents Three Rivers on the board, said the effort to build a public restroom in Three Rivers dates back to the 1990s when Bill Sanders was the District 1 supervisor. He pointed out last year that people using the Sequoia Shuttle to get to the park for the day were in need of a public restroom.

The museum has already paid for architecture and engineering designs. Initially scheduled to open this summer, Marshall said he is hopeful the restrooms will be completed by January 2020. Marshall said the historical society has already raised more than $100,000 which will go toward an estimated $400,000 project to expand its exhibitor space. Phase 2 of the museum’s expansion would construct a 2,400-square foot barn-like structure for historical exhibits and events. A second floor storage loft may be included in Phase 2 or in a third and final phase. The current museum display area is 2,000 square feet. In addition to more than doubling its space, Marshall said the barn will house a fully restored doctor wagon, items from a general store, and a dentist’s office from the early 20th Century.

Marshall said other projects include at the museum include a replica of the community’s first salon (circa 1895), a small shack that will be built on the 3.5-acre grounds of the museum as well as a fully functioning blacksmith shop circa 1900-1920.

The museum has an additional $30,000 set aside to help upgrade the onsite water system by installing a new well and an 8,000 gallon water tank for fire suppression. 

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