Five years ago, in
2012, a small but vocal group of residents made its feelings clear when the
Chesterton Town Council proposed replacing the chemical toilets in Thomas
Centennial Park with a trailer-mounted restroom: such a facility, it was
said at the time, would send the wrong message to out-of-towners, that
Chesterton was uncouth or plebeian or mean. Or something.
So here’s a
question: what would those same residents think about a bogey-mounted
At its meeting
Tuesday night, the Park Board heard a presentation by Richard Riley, train
buff and owner of Riley’s Railhouse at 123 N. Fourth St. in Chesterton, who
made a case for purchasing and converting an old railroad boxcar into a
restroom, adding a caboose as a multi-use space--as a cooling room in the
summer and Santa’s House during the holidays--and then installing them on
tracks in Thomas Park, immediately east of the former New York Central
passenger depot, now used by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce as its
Riley began his
detailed PowerPoint presentation by stating the obvious: a real restroom
facility in Thomas Park is “desperately needed.” That said, Riley suggested
that a rail restroom would “build on the existing strong railroad theme in
Thomas Park”--which used to be known, back in the day, as Railroad
Park--that it would add “color and interest to the Downtown area,” and that
it would provide “enthusiasm and support for the Chesterton ‘branding
effort’” currently underway.
The devil, of
course, is in the details. Riley estimated the total cost of purchasing a
caboose and boxcar at $70,000; that of transporting them to a contractor to
retrofit them at $20,000; and that of acquiring and installing ties and
rails in the park at $10,000. Total estimated preliminary cost: $100,000.
however, doesn’t include the cost of hiring an architect to design the
interior specifications nor that of purchasing finish materials, of
extending utilities to the site, and of building a boardwalk deck access up
to the boxcar.
Still, if that
initial $100,000 estimate is accurate--or at least, not particularly
inaccurate--it compares favorably to the cost of the new modular restroom
right now being installed at Dogwood Park: around $158,000 for the unit
itself and the concrete foundation. In sum, a rail restroom would be “a
little more creative and a little under budget than what was previously
discussed,” Riley offered.
Riley did say that
a Michigan City contractor, Mike Steward, d.b.a Preferred Contractor
Services Co., has experience both in industrial water- and sand-blasting and
in heavy-equipment painting, and has expressed an interest in the rail
restroom project. Steward--who recently completed cleaning, blasting, and
painting an old South Shore Freight caboose--also owns a South Shore caboose
which he’d be willing to sell to the town as part of the project, Riley
Park Board members
expressed, in theory, enthusiasm for Riley’s proposal.
“I like the idea,”
Member Jim Crawford said. “It adds to the theme of our train history. We’ve
all grown up with them in Chesterton. We might as well embrace it.”
“I think it would
bring a lot to the park,” Member Cindy Tucker added. “And it would get rid
of the port-a-potties.”
“I think it’s
unique,” Member Paul Shinn said for his part. “My concerns are cost; timing,
to get it ready for the summer; and capacity. But it’s very unique.”
For President Mark
Dickinson, “the timing is right” for a rail restroom, Riley’s proposal
coming as it does while funds are still left from the $2-million bond issued
late in 2015.
For the record,
exactly one year ago the Park Board officially added the construction of a
restroom in Thomas Park to its list of possible bond projects. Inclusion on
the list is no guarantee that it will get done, but it does reflect members’
seriousness of purpose.
heard on Tuesday from half a dozen or so people who spoke enthusiastically
in favor of a rail restroom.
executive director of the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor
Commission, told the board how, several years ago, she was surprised to
learn from a study of Flickr tags just how frequently “Chesterton” and
“trains” are tagged together. “I’m amazed by how many people travel to
Chesterton for the trains and rail history.”
Pat Carlisle echoed Weimer. “I wasn’t aware of the popularity of trains in
Chesterton until a few years ago,” she said, when she heard from her
son-in-law--who travels the country to train-spot--that the town “is high on
the list of destinations for people who want to watch trains.”
Wendy Marciniak sees a rail restroom as a destination in and of itself. “I
think that would be a great attraction,” she said.
And just to sweeten
the pot and make things more interesting, Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace
Hardware, pledged to donate to the town the toilets, plumbing, conduit,
wire, and anything else needful in the way of fixtures. “Whatever it will
take,” Hopkins said. “The town needs a spark and this would be a big piece
of what would light that fire. We need to do something and this is a great
By unanimous votes,
the Park Board took the following initial, non-binding steps on Tuesday:
*To retain the
services of Robert Nicksic of James F. Giannini & Associates of Chesterton,
at a cost not to exceed $18,000, to provide preliminary site work and
*To authorize Park
Superintendent Bruce Mathias and Town Engineer Mark O’Dell to obtain quotes
on the purchase of a boxcar, caboose, and rails as well as on the
transportation of the two railcars when acquired.
*And to authorize
Mathias and O’Dell to obtain quotes on the cost of building a boardwalk deck
access and of extending utilities to the site.
that none of these actions in any way obligates the board actually to put a
couple of renovated railcars in Thomas Park.