Making Denver Flush

Handymen gather to build bathrooms on the 16th Street Mall.

If you ever complain that there aren't enough bathrooms on the 16th Street Mall, then Handyman Mania is the festival for you. On September 21 and 22, teams of professional contractors and amateur handymen will turn Skyline Park into Denver's largest outhouse.

"The Battle of the Bathrooms" features tool-belt-wearing enthusiasts who will build complete bathrooms from the ground up. Beginning with a shotgun start and a mad dash to claim the necessary materials, the teams have fourteen hours to build a forty-square-foot bathroom while under the public's prying eye. "Last year the crowd really got involved, asking the participants to explain what they were doing as they went," says Andy Bell, president of Handyman Matters, a home-repair and handyman-staffing company that sponsors the event. "People really got creative, doing things like drywall arches and custom wallpaper." A homeowners' team, a women's trade organization and a local vocational school have already signed up to participate this year.

"The bathroom is ideal because it has every discipline -- plumbing, electrical, carpentry," Bell says. Finished products will be judged on creativity, craftsmanship and the level of completion.

Inaugurated last year as the Handyman Olympics, big changes are already under way for the second edition. The official Olympics folks didn't approve of the contest's name, so organizers had to come up with a new moniker for the second go-round. The location is different, as well, with the festival moving over from Civic Center Park -- where several of the park's homeless inhabitants reportedly pitched in last year - to Skyline Park at Arapahoe Street between 15th and 18th streets. Held the same weekend as the Home Decorating and Remodeling Show, the contest is expected to attract 6,000 people. Organizers are hoping it will draw weekend foot traffic from the 16th Street Mall and conventiongoers from the Colorado Convention Center. "I think we'll get a lot more people this year," says Bell. "Wouldn't you be curious if you saw a bathtub sitting on the curb?"

Along with some speedy drywall hanging comes dangerous fun: the belt-sander drag races. Last year, the feet of the CFO of Handyman Matters were strapped to two belt sanders and he was sent flying. But after he lost a patch of hair, they decided to do it the old-fashioned, safe way this year: put two belt sanders on a piece of plywood with a four-inch groove and let 'em rip -- no humans attached. "You race them side by side, they kind of look like little rats," explains Bell. "It's really quite comical." The key to winning is picking the correct sandpaper grit, insiders say, because that choice controls the speed.

With food and industry vendors assembled as well, the festival is the perfect place to talk about windows, concrete or mortgages with local experts. Activities for kids include building birdhouses and decorating flowerpots.

And the entire gathering serves a good cause: Last year, the event raised over $12,000 for the Housing Services Initiatives, which works with elderly and disabled residents. The newly built bathrooms will be deconstructed and donated to the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. Last year, $16,500 worth of materials were passed along.

So if using tape measures and stud finders are among your favorite activities, come check out the outdoor stalls-in-progress. Just don't forget to put the seat down.

 
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