Red Deer city council agreed a public restroom is needed in the downtown, but refused to reopen Centennial Park public washrooms.
Most councillors reasoned that the “social disorder” that led to the closure of those washrooms, south of the downtown McDonald’s, has not been resolved.
Coun. Tanya Handley said it seems a shame to not use existing facilities “when the plumbing is there,” but she recalled there was “push-back” from neighbouring condo owners about the illicit activities that had been happening in those washrooms before their closure.
According to feedback from residents and downtown businesses, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem of having no public facilities in the downtown as most business owners are not allowing members of the general public into their private washrooms.
Even before the pandemic, attendees of downtown events, including the Wednesday farmer’s market, have had nowhere to relieve themselves, said Sarah Tittemore, general-manager of community services for the city.
Tittemore told council that some businesses have also complained about having to clean up human waste from alleyways.
“I can’t think of anything as de-humanizing as that being somebody’s only option,” said Handley.
But the majority of councillors though it better to wait until Centennial Park is redeveloped before reopening those exiting washrooms.
They instead favoured having city administrators work with the Downtown Business Association to set up temporary, portable washrooms, on an as needed basis, for 2021 Wednesday markets, Ross Street Patio events, and other large public gatherings as allowed by public health orders. This will be covered by $20,000 that was previously worked into the 2021 budget.
Council also approved $45,000 to rent a trailer-like portable washroom in 2022. It will be set up “strategically,” to create a safe environment, meet the needs of a variety of users, have minimal impact on the surrounding community, and to learn “specific information” about restroom usage.
Research will be collected through an on-site attendant over five months of seasonal operation, as well as by engaging the surrounding business and social agency stakeholders.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said council needs a “data-driven” response to determine location and usage before investing in a permanent public washroom structure.