One section of a former Chinese restaurant at Melton Lake Park has already been converted into a rental shop for kayaks and bikes.
Now, another part of the city-owned building at the Oak Ridge Marina is being converted into public restrooms and changing rooms for big events. The bathrooms, which will be open to the public, could open next month.
It’s one of the steps in implementing a waterfront development plan approved by Oak Ridge City Council in December 2009. That plan included such features as a new picnic pavilion, walking trails, new playground, permanent restrooms, enhanced lighting and landscaping, outdoor casual dining, and recreational equipment rental.
The bathrooms will include multiple stalls, and the city will open the changing rooms for large events, such as regattas (rowing races). That will double the restroom capacities, said Pat Fallon, operations and maintenance manager for the Oak Ridge Public Works Department.
“It will accommodate quite a few people,” Fallon said Tuesday as workers patched the ceiling of the men’s bathroom, hung drywall, and built a block wall. “It’s going to be really good for big events.”
Fallon said the building will have a water fountain and water bottle filling station. It is also expected to have a front porch and vending machines. A skylight that was already installed in the center of the building will provide some natural light. The building and its water fountain will be open year-round, but it will close during those hours when the park closes, such as at night.
“I think that’s really going to enhance the park,” Fallon said of the new city facility, which could open in mid-May
Fallon said busy Melton Lake Park will accommodate many different types of activities, including biking, walking, running, rowing, kayaking, and children who want to enjoy the playground as well as families who want to eat in the picnic area.
“It’s becoming what will probably become the best park in our park system,” he said.
The city-owned building that is now being remodeled previously housed the New China Palace, but the restaurant’s decades-old lease was not renewed last year and the diner has since moved to Central Avenue in the Jackson Square area.
Fallon gave significant credit for the progress on the waterfront to Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson. He said Watson, like others before him, recognized that the city’s waterfront is “underused.” The difference, though, is that Watson had a vision and made the decision to do something about it, Fallon said.
Much of the work at the waterfront bathroom facility is being done in-house by city employees, including staff members in the electric and public works departments. But the city had to hire a company to do the plumbing, Fallon said.
He said the building, which is next door to the Oak Ridge Rowing Association boathouse, was originally a marina building that handled boat and fuel sales. He said it might have been built in the late 1960s, and the New China Palace might have moved in in the 1970s.
Fallon said the new facility will give people a place to wash up after using the waterfront, and it is expected to help keep people at the waterfront and in Oak Ridge. Other changes along the waterfront since the development plan was approved in 2009 include a new pavilion at Melton Lake Park, completion of the fourth phase of Melton Lake Greenway, and the paving of the parking lot at Elza Gate Park a few miles north of Melton Lake Park.