January 23, 2014

Taking a Bath for 400,000 in St Petersburg Takes You Back 100 Yrs

  • Municipal bathhouses provide access to hot water for locals without proper bathing facilities at home
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / SPT

Taking a bath is far more complicated than it sounds for an estimated 400,000 St. Petersburg residents. These citizens reside either in communal apartments, older apartments without bathrooms or cold-water apartments. For such people, municipal steam baths often are the only way to keep clean.
People who use bathhouses for convenience rather than leisure, however, cannot afford to use private saunas or banyas. There exist a number of bathhouses financed by the city where the entrance price varies from 25 to 35 rubles for 90 minutes, a price that occasionally drops to a mere 10 rubles on certain days. The minimum price to use these banyas skyrockets to at least 150 rubles on the weekends, as groups of friends use them as weekly meeting places.

The city plans to undertake a more determined effort to maintain the city’s system of public baths. St. Petersburg currently has 30 such facilities scattered throughout its environs and city authorities have promised to introduce a detailed plan to modernize these facilities by 2014.

It is a plan long overdue: Some of these bathhouses are in such poor condition that many residents are afraid to use them. Residents also worry when any of the banyas are closed for reconstruction, since it is not an uncommon practice for developers to use the opportunity to change the zoning of a building to something more profitable. There are numerous examples of temporary closures becoming permanent when a bathhouse is turned into an entertainment complex or business center rather than maintaining its original function.

“Krasnie banyas,” one such bathhouse located on Moskovsky Prospekt, closed for renovation at the end of 2012. Recently, investors emphasized their intention to maintain bathing as the primary function of the facility. This tends to be the case when adequate bathrooms are unavailable in surrounding buildings.
“We had the following reasons to keep the bathing complex,” Vitaly Nikiforovsky, vice-president of Springald, the company responsible for the renovations, told The St. Petersburg Times. “First of all, the banya plays an important social function. There are lots of communal flats nearby and, for some elderly people, the banta is not only a tradition but an opportunity to take a bath in adequate conditions.”

“Moreover,” Nikiforovsky continued, “There aren’t any other municipal banyas in the surrounding area, so investors wanted to keep this as the basic function of the building.”
The first stage of the renovation finished at the beginning of the year. The project was put on hold after the initial work was completed and, in mid-September, construction began anew. Currently, the walls and roof have been repaired and new equipment has been installed. The renovation affected more than 10,000 square meters of the complex, replacing many of the building’s historic yet dilapidated sections.

This is the first time the banya has undergone any kind of reconstruction since its foundation was laid at the end of 19th century. Once finished, the Moskovsky Prospekt complex will feature a new boiler, which will not rely on the city’s heating system so that breakdowns, a common occurrence in the city’s older buildings, won’t plague the updated facility.
When reopened, the bathhouse will not only have several types of steam rooms but will include spa services as well. The reopening is planned for November 2014.

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