Editorial: Flush the complaints about bathroom repairs

Oct. 20, 2013 @ 01:01 AM

Although we happily jump at justified opportunities to tweak politicians for greed, hubris and/or stupidity, the recent uproar over now-abandoned plans to renovate the bathrooms in the Executive Mansion in Raleigh is not one.

The total estimated cost of the renovations, $230,000, seems neither outrageous in its amount nor out of line for the cost to renovate rooms in historic buildings – and that’s what the Executive Mansion is. Its construction was completed in 1891, and it has been in continuous use ever since.

It is fashionable now to build spartan, purely utilitarian public buildings with no art or heart, no style and no sense of inspiration, and were this state to set out now to build a house for its governor, no doubt we would end up with a two-bedroom, two-bath ranch with a carport.

That was not the case in 1891. Then, public buildings spoke to the aspirations of society. A building with a grand purpose was given grand features. The Executive Mansion is a large house in the Queen Anne style, and it’s fabulous to see. It belongs to the public, and it should be maintained in the spirit and architectural style in which it was built, at what the reasonable expense for doing so would be.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration sought two estimates and selected the less expensive of the two, though reading that the lower estimate involved laying new tile over old makes us cringe. That is no way to maintain a Victorian-era house.

The criticism directed at the bathroom plans was nakedly political and intended to shame McCrory. It worked. Minimal work, for less than $20,000, was done. That doesn’t mean that renovations are not needed. An Associated Press story last week said, “The mansion bathrooms were last remodeled in the 1970s but were said to be in working order.”

Perhaps they are “in working order,” but that hardly means they are in good condition. That the sinks and tubs have running water and the toilets don’t overflow are minimal criteria.

And while fashion should not be a major factor driving such decisions, go find anything that was last remodeled in the 1970s and you probably will give McCrory the benefit of the doubt. As a people, we all lost our minds in the 1970s and created some of the most hideous design concepts the world has seen.

The only real problem we have with how the administration handled this affair is the snippy, juvenile response that spokeswoman Kim Genardo gave after the politically motivated sniping started – pointedly blaming McCrory’s Democratic predecessor for not making repairs. Answering juvenile partisanship with more juvenile partisanship accomplishes nothing; instead, release a list of what needs repair, and people can deduce on their own whether necessary work had been left undone for quite a long time, which in turn would place any blame where it needs to be.

The mansion belongs to all the people of North Carolina. McCrory is a temporary occupant. Let’s all remember that. Letting problems linger or delaying needed improvements helps no one and only makes the work more expensive.

Perhaps, since it is a historic property, some foundation or donor will step forward to renovate the bathrooms. A Democrat should make the offer. If there is any room where politics should not enter, it is the bathroom.