In downtown Missoula, a big to do about a loo

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Crews installed a Portland Loo at the new Art Park in downtown Missoula on Wednesday. The 6,000-pound restroom will open for public use in the spring when the Missoula Art Museum installs its first outdoor exhibit. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

For a few brief moments on Wednesday, a 6,000-pound bathroom hovered over a downtown Missoula street before finding its footing in the city’s new Art Park, where it will open for public use in the spring.

A small crowd gathered for the unceremonial event, which lasted all of a few minutes. Getting this far, however, required years of work.

“We’re really pleased with the progress,” said Laura Millin, executive director of the Missoula Art Museum. “All of the contractors have taken so much care with the installation process, and it’s looking beautiful. It’s like a canvas, or an open book, for future events and art experiences.”

Estimated at roughly $1 million, the Art Park will transform Pine Street between the museum and Adventure Cycling into something of an outdoor plaza, complete with seating, flower beds, trees and a collection of sculptures.

Most of the concrete work is now finished, giving the park shape and form. The trees are in the ground and a collection of boulders lend the future gathering spot dimension and color.

Up until Wednesday, all that was missing was the loo – a refined reference to an upscale restroom. The stainless steel facility includes plumbing and venting, and brings a welcome pit stop to the north end of the downtown district.

“The mayor’s Downtown Advisory Council had identified the need for a public restroom on the north end of downtown,” Millin said, waiting for the loo to arrive. “They looked at other cities and what’s out there before landing on Portland Loo.”

Madden Fabrication bills the loo as a “unique solution to a universal problem.” Manufactured in Portland, the units are easy to maintain, resistant to vandals and well ventilated, hence the collection of louvers lining the top and bottom of the walls.

The units also include a hand-washing station and require 1.28 gallons of water per flush. According to the manufacturer, the occupancy counter in Portland records an average of 250 flushes per day.

The Missoula loo will remain open roughly nine months of the year.

“It’s been tested in Portland and adapted,” said Millin. “I had no vision of incorporating a public restroom in the park, but the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Council asked us to adapt it as part of the park. It makes it much more of a park.”

Backers of the downtown Art Park had hoped to have the project completed by Nov. 1. But early bids came in roughly $150,000 over budget, prompting designers to go back to the drawing board while supporters worked to raise additional funding.

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Crews ease the loo into place. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on First Friday in August. On that warm summer evening, supporters showed up in shorts and T-shirts before sinking shovels into a patch of grass. On Wednesday, however, a brisk wind blew from Hellgate Canyon, though the Loo held steady as it was eased into place.

Millin said a lighting system specifically designed for the park should arrive this month. Once installed, it will add a contemporary look to a contemporary park positioned outside the city’s contemporary art museum.

The first installation of outdoor art is expected to take place in April.

“It’s going to have to wait for the spring,” said Millin. “It’s a project that celebrates the bicycle with works by four Montana artists. That’ll be the full bloom of the park in April when we install the first show.”

The park was designed by Ann Hanenburg of SPW Landscape Architects. In August, she praised the park for its uniqueness.

“We have the opportunity on occasion to do projects, but not quite like this one,” Hanenburg said during the groundbreaking ceremony. “There’s nothing like this in the whole region. Once you build it and embrace it, it will be something you’ll be proud of for many generations to come.”

 

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com