Call them what you will — privies, johns, earth closets, the shack out back or nooshniks if you live in Ninilchik — outhouses are an Alaska tradition.
Equipped with a candle to brighten winter’s darkness, a Styrofoam seat positioned for maximum warmth, a little reading material, an open door that captures views of sparkling water, hanging glaciers or the dancing aurora and you have all the makings for the perfect place to enjoy a bit of privacy while you do what you have to do.
Homer’s outhouses soared to fame in the Cordova Times’ 1987 contest for Outhouse of the Year. The late Joy Post’s outhouse on Kachemak Drive won first place for having the best view, which included sweeping sights of Mud Bay, Grewingk Glacier and the Kenai Mountains. Kate and Ben Mitchell’s outhouse, built out of the prow of an old boat, was dubbed the most unique in the state. MaryJane Murphy’s outhouse received honorable mention for her fancy composting toilet and glass, etched windows.
Romantic as that tradition might be in our memories or still necessary for some of us, the city of Homer is constructing something a little more comfortable for guests and locals alike: four new buildings of block construction, each one housing two uni-sex, heated restrooms.
The buildings cost between $190,000-$350,000 each, for a total of $949,000.
“There are multiple grants from multiple agencies, but it’s all cruise ship head tax monies,” said Carey Meyer, the city’s public works director. “Steiner’s North Star Construction is the prime contractor and I believe all the subcontractors are local contractors.”
Each restroom has a sink with running cold water.
While they may not have open doors or windows soaking up Homer’s spectacular views, they are located for convenience:
• Backed up against a thick wall of alder and mountain ash at the intersection of West Pioneer Avenue and Bartlett Street;
• In the center of town at WKFL Park
• At the End of the Road Park; and
• A restroom-shelter-guard shack combination at Deep Water Dock, where cruise ships tie up during visits to Homer.
Artistic touches will be added to the four structures through the city’s 1 percent for art program, with the selection of artists made by the city’s art committee.
“Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile Homer will do two sandhill crane murals for the rest-room at WKFL Park,” said Carey. “Melisse Reichman of Nature Tale’s Studio in Homer will do a ‘roaming the land’ mural at Bartlett and Pioneer.”
Sheila Wyne of Anchorage will do a tile mural of the Danny J, the vessel that carries passengers between Homer and Halibut Cove, at the End of the Road Park and, at the artist’s discretion, another tile mural at Deep Water Dock.
“The Homer Cycling Club is contributing towards the installation with a bike rack at each of the restrooms,” said Carey. “The racks will be similar to the one installed at Karen Hornaday Park playground.”
Work on the murals will commence next summer. Construction of the outhouses, however, is scheduled to be completed in October. One restroom in each of the buildings will stay open through the winter.
“The downtown restrooms have been on the city’s CIP (capital improvement plan) list for as long as I’ve been here. It’s been a community priority,” said Carey.
No additional city personnel are anticipated to maintain the facilities. The project to extend the Spit Trail, also to be funded with cruise ship passenger head tax revenues, will add paving and landscaping at Deep Water Dock and End of the Road Park sites next summer.
All in all, Carey said the new restrooms are an upgrade to the city’s existing public restrooms at various locations.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we put some effort into making them a little nicer to look at than what we’ve previously built on the Spit,” he said. “They’re not simply a concrete block rectangle.”
Or an outhouse.
City of Homer capital projects
These projects have been completed this year or are under construction:
• Natural gas trunk line extension, to be complete this year;
• Natural gas main extensions, with core areas to be complete this year;
• City buildings — sewer treatment plant, public works, animal shelter, library, city hall, airport terminal — converted to natural gas, to be completed this winter;
• Deep Water Dock fender replacement, complete;
• Downtown and Spit restrooms (see related story, this page);
• Deep Water Dock trail-cruise ship bus staging area, to be completed next summer;
• Spit Trial extension, to be completed next summer;
• Spit Trail boardwalk replacement project, to be completed this summer;
• Harbor entrance shore protection improvements, to begin after Labor Day;
• City beautification project, underway;
• 2013 street repaving projects of Soundview, Fish Dock Road, Ice Dock Road, Smokey Bay Way, Klondike Avenue, West Fairview, Town Heights Lane, Greatland Street and FAA Drive, underway;
• Karen Hornaday Park picnic shelter improvement, to be constructed after Labor Day;
• Beluga Slough Trail interpretive signing, to be installed this summer;
• Small boat harbor system 5 electrical improvements, to be constructed this fall;
• Small boat harbor float replacement, to begin this month;
• Small boat harbor ramp 3 replacement, to be constructed next year;
• Crittenden Road-Waddell Street paving project, to include road and drainage to urban road standards;
• Redwood tank demolition, to be done this year;
• Sewer treatment plant headworks intake screen replacement, underway;
• Library vestibule improvements, completed.