February 28th, 2024

Those waiting for Towne Square public bathroom will have to hold it

By COLLIN GALLANT on June 27, 2023.

A plan to address washroom access in the city centre includes adding security guards and extending operations at the city's transit terminal to 24 hours, seven days per week, a committee heard on Monday. - NEWS FILE PHOTO


The city will pause plans to construct a permanent public washroom at Towne Square but instead pay for security and extend access to facilities at the transit terminal to 24-hours, a city committee heard on Monday.

That comes two weeks after administrators said they were evaluating operational changes in public buildings to provide bathroom access to people in the downtown core who otherwise rely on private businesses or relieve themselves in alleys.

The half-million dollar construction project became a point of controversy after it was taken out of an original work to transform the parking lot at 603 First Street to an event space in 2021.

With only $2 million in grants for the project, and costs already in the $3 million range, the facilities were shelved in the planning stage, despite businesses in the core arguing they were facing damage and strange behaviour and had to restrict washrooms to customers only. They were reinserted in the 2023-24 budget last December after portable washroom units were placed on the site over the summer, but were removed in colder weather.

Staff also reported significant vandalism, break-ins, drug paraphernalia and general “misuse” of the portable stalls.

Going forward, the city may require events organizers to arrange their own event-specific rentals to accommodate crowds.

“Our experiences last summer was there was a lot of vandalism and just being unsafe, is how a lot of people would describe it,” said committee chair, Coun. Ramona Robins, who supported the change and around-the-clock security at the terminal.

“It’s about what is the most effective solution,” she said. “An effective use of city funds, that’s one (consideration), but also it is (finding) what meets the needs.”

Another strike against construction, according to a briefing note, was the fact that the water and sewer service connection to the site would make the mid-point of the two-year-old canopy as the obvious location for new washroom.

“We’re holding on the construction, and we’re not yet recommending that we (cancel) it,” said public services managing director Brian Stauth. “At the transit terminal, currently (washrooms) run 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and now they’ll run 24 hours a day, and with that there is an increase in security.”

The cost of added security guards for the remainder of 2023 is $48,000 and the full-year cost in 2024 is expected to be $100,000.

Council will be asked to approve the change at the July 4 meeting.

The current city budget included new funding of $96,000 in 2023 and 2024 to provide a security guard at the transit facility between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The police service’s downtown patrol has made the bus depot an operating priority, which has led to fewer incidents of damage, about half, said Stauth.

“We expect to see that drop further,” he said. “At Town Square, there still will be ‘port-a-potties’ (brought in for events) if required.”

Currently, publicly accessible washrooms in public buildings include the transit terminal seven days each week. as well as:

– City Hall main floor, business hours Monday to Friday;

– The Esplanade, Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.;

– The Medicine Hat Public Library, varied hours each day, but closed on Sunday during the summer.

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