City council has flushed the Portland Loo and 24-hour public bathroom concept down the toilet, opting to instead construct public bathrooms in pre-existing downtown buildings, with oversight from community groups.
The bathrooms will be built in the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association office, at 103-340 Victoria St., and in the homeless storage facility at 48 West Victoria St.
The latter facility will include a shower and both locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., fewer hours than the 24 hours previously planned for the proposed late loos.
A closed-door decision released this week states the freestanding bathrooms previously approved in the 2018 supplemental budget were determined “not to be the best solution,” due to the city’s low winter temperatures and difficulty finding a location to install them.
Additionally, costs and vandalism were concerns. Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society and Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association will each be paid $20,000 annually to support maintenance, cleaning and renovation.
“The problem you have in this day and age that you have with public washrooms is you need a washroom attendant,” Mayor Ken Christian said.
“Otherwise, the degree of nonsense that goes on — sex acts, drug use, violence and just general vandalism — is too much. It would be affronting our community values, so we wanted to put them in some place where there would be a partner that could operate them.”
Existing public washrooms in Kamloops are generally located in and around parks, open seasonally some time after 5 a.m. and closed at or before 11 p.m., depending on when city staff get to them.
No public washrooms are open 24 hours, though some businesses offer patrons late-night loos.
As a result of a lack of public facilities, downtown businesses have raised the issue of defecation and urination in the alleyways.
One downtown business owner told KTW issues of defecation and urination occur weekly near their business.
They understand it to be part of larger issues of homelessness and enforcement.
Problems are not limited to feces and urine, but also include vomit, condoms, discarded needles and sex acts.
City CAO David Trawin said the city experimented with keeping public washrooms at Heritage House in Riverside Park open for longer periods of time, but noted it resulted in damage, dirtiness and people sleeping in them.
The city ultimately cut back the hours.
Jeff Putnam, the city’s parks manager, said in the past two years, the city has seen an increase in the misuse of public washroom facilities in city parks. As a result, it has doubled its crews to include bylaws and parks staff.
In the past two weeks, $5,000 worth of damage was done to the Heritage House bathroom, including trashing of the automatic door opener for theft of the electronics inside.
There have also been problems in the washrooms at McDonald Park in North Kamloops.
“It’s fairly constant, to be honest,” Putnam said.
The mayor said the two primary groups the city hoped to help in adding public bathrooms are the homeless and Rocky Mountaineer tourists.
Calling it a “human right” to have a bathroom, Christian said an increase in social housing, including the Tranquille Road modular homes that opened last week, should help alleviate the need for late-night washrooms, noting council sought a balance.
As for the bar flush, Christian said those people have access to bathrooms at their respective watering holes. Cost of the facilities was another sticking point for council, which wanted more permanent facilities for the price tag.
The loos were estimated to cost $370,000 to install and $55,000 annually to maintain. Operating costs are down for the new bathrooms, though capital costs are expected to be more.
Construction of the two downtown bathrooms is estimated at $360,000, including a contingency fund. The KCBIA bathroom will cost $150,000. The West Victoria Street washroom will cost more, $210,000, due to the addition of a shower.
Council approved a similar amount of money to be spent building a public washroom at a location to be determined in North Kamloops.
“We’re trying to offer laundry facilities, we have the storage bin facilities there and we want a shower,” Christian said of the washroom that will be added to the storage facility for the homeless across from city hall.
“Maybe they’re transients and moving through Kamloops. You want to given them a chance to get a job. Maybe they need a place to store their gear, clean up and get out there and start trying to improve their life,” he said.
While appreciative the city is recognizing the problem, the downtown business owner who spoke to KTW said bathrooms open during the day are not enough.
The city, however, maintains it would need staff working though the night to monitor 24-hour bathrooms. Kelowna apparently has security personnel monitoring public washrooms near its skating rink.
“I don’t think this will resolve the issue of people urinating and defecating downtown, but it will help,” Trawin said.