For some, it may just seem like ... well, like a bathroom, but for a surprising number of Bitterrooters, the ladies' restroom at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds is a fairly important place.

Take, for instance, the rodeo queen that needs a place to perfect her hair and outfit at the last moment, or the hundreds of girls that participate in 4-H who need to appear presentable in those starched white shirts when showing their livestock to the judge.

And then there are the stroller-carting mothers searching for somewhere to change a diaper or a wheelchair-bound grandmother that needs special access.

For 14-year-old Pam Fawns of Hamilton, there are endless reasons why the ladies' restroom at the fairgrounds needed a little remodeling, including her own.

"Well, I really wanted the doors to lock, which is kind of a good thing when you're using the restroom," laughed Fawns. "So, that was my main reason, but then all of us came together and we thought that this building hadn't been redone in a long time."

Fawns is the project manager for Youth Building Remodel (YBR) - a joint project of the Tapestry 4-H Club and Valley Oak Home School program - and on Monday the group was at the fairgrounds finishing up their five-day project to expand and beautify the ladies' restroom.

A true youth-driven effort, YBR projects are chosen and initiated by the kids, who also recruit labor, track down funding and donations, plan and execute much of the labor and follow up with summary reports.

Last year, the group took on a similar project in the fairgrounds' 4-H Exhibit Building.

"They painted it, really freshened it up, reorganized it;" said fair director Deborah Rogala. "It was long overdue for that and they did such a great job"

That project went so well that the group decided to continue their efforts at the fairgrounds.

"They said that they were thinking of doing the bathroom and I said ‘hooray!'" Rogala exclaimed.

With the help of a local architect, the group started by remodeling two stalls; one for mothers and their children that's twice as large and includes a changing table, and an improved-access handicapped stall which has a wider door, a modified toilet and easier to grab support bars.

"We lengthened it out more and scooted this wall back so that it would be bigger," explained Fawns, "and the door was only 33 inches so we made it 36 because we wanted it to be larger and more accessible for handicapped people."

Before even beginning the project, the group did their research, tracking down similar stalls in bathrooms from airports to restaurants, trying to figure out which way the door should swing and other important details.

In addition to adding handles and locks to the stalls, the group also repainted the entire bathroom in a new color scheme using paint colors donated by Missoula's Home Resource Center that the kids mixed themselves.

"We chose the color scheme out of Better Homes and Gardens and it was perfect. We were really excited about what colors we chose," Fawns said.

To finish it all off, they brought in friends and local artists to help decorate the stall doors with scenic Bitterroot Valley landscapes.

Acrylic painter Kelsey Williams of Victor, who usually prefers to paint portraits of people, created a scene depicting a vivid mountainscape looming above the lush river valley.

For Williams, it was a unique project, not to mention canvas.

"Definitely the first bathroom stall," she said.

For Pam Fawns' mother, Wendy - who runs the Valley Oak program - giving the kids the reigns on projects like these empowers the kids to embrace a broader education.

"So often, they're taught to sort of regurgitate what we give them and then they're let loose at 18 to basically run the country - and they run it for us when we're 60 and 70!" she said. "So, it's really to show them that they can make a difference on things that matter to them; they chose this bathroom. They had the desire because they're at the fairgrounds showing [4-H animals] and they want to look good."

In addition to that, Fawns added, it's a good way of reminding adults that kids are capable; they can do a lot once they get invested in a project.

"That has been a very interesting process. There have been several places we've gone into with these projects where people have been very hesitant to begin with ... and the kids have just risen to the occasion," she said. "They need to have something that has meaning to them."

For Rogala, the whole thing has been an impressive display of what a group of kids can do when they put their minds to something.

"We're actually dealing directly with the kids themselves," Rogala said. "Their parent leader is really in the background and she doesn't really take over for them which is awesome; they're doing a great job. They've done all the research and the grant-writing and we're thrilled.

"To be that young and concerned and that detail-oriented is just truly amazing."

Reporter Will Moss can be reached at 363-3300 or wmoss@ravallirepublic.com

 

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