Emergency action allowing construction work on a downtown public restroom facilitity to proceed without delay was authorized last week by the Pawhuska City Council.

The nearly $60,000 project will provide necessary amenities for downtown visitors — the numbers of which have skyrocketed since last fall’s opening of The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile. Discussions about improving the downtown offerings began in earnest at the Council’s February meeting and emerged as the primary issue at its March 7 session.

Selected as the site for the new public facility was the so-called “Rancher’s Plaza,” a partially-developed pocket park in a vacant building space on the north side of China Star restaurant.

Two other potential locations had been brought up for consideration — a different empty space on the north side of Tolson Agency and grassy area located between City Hall and the Police Station.

The latter site had drawn disfavor from safety officials due to its location — which is across a major roadway (Main Street/U.S. Highway 60) from the main part of downtown (i.e. The Mercantile).

Designation of the Ranchers Plaza site for the restroom facility was enhanced by the fact that it is owned by Blue Sky Bank and that the chairman of the board of Blue Sky (Gentner Drummond) is a cousin of Mercantile co-developer Ladd Drummond.

According to local officials, the Rancher’s Plaza owner offered the city a 50-year lease on the property for $1/year (with the option for a 50-year extension). In addition to the generous leasing offer, officials said the Mercantile owner reportedly agreed to have daily maintenance of the public facility performed by Mercantile employees.

Building contractor Terry Loftis of Loftis Construction said the restroom facility would be a steel reinforced building designed to resemble an old-style barn. It was shown to contain approximately six toilets (with three on the women’s side and a comparable arrangemnent of men’s).

Council members voted to declare an emergency “for health and safety reasons,” allowing the restroom project’s contract to be awarded without the regular competitive bidding process. The council vote on the emergency declaration was 4-1, with Councilman Roger Taylor abstaining.

Taylor pointed out that the restroom proposal already had generated a certain amount of opposition in the community. He said declaring an emergency to circumvent bidding norms might be perceived as the council “bulldozing” the project through.

City Attorney John Heskett told Council members that, due to competitive-bidding requirements, they would need to “declare an emergency for health and safety reasons” in order to approve an expenditure for more than $50,000. (The construction cost estimate came in at $58,674.)

Loftis, who also was involved with the Mercantile building renovations, had worked up plans for each of the three sites under consideration. He said the project might be completed within five or six weeks.