Olympia is considering a six-month pilot project that will bring more public restrooms to the downtown core.
A proposal to install three porta-potties is intended to serve as a temporary fix while the city figures out a permanent solution to a long-simmering problem — namely the lack of accessible public restrooms at night.
As a result of the void, alleyways and business entryways have become de facto receptacles for human waste. Many business owners say that inadequate restroom access has become a significant burden.
Anna Schlecht, the city’s housing manager, presented a detailed report for public restroom options during the Jan. 29 meeting of the General Government Committee. The overall goal is to create a gender-neutral facility that serves more than the street community.
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The report explores the cost and impact of potential scenarios:
▪ A porta-potty such as the Honey Bucket at the Artesian Commons costs about $9,000 for a six-month rental, plus costs to monitor the unit. These are ADA-accessible and can be quickly installed.
▪ Similar to the previous option is the “deluxe” porta-potty that comes with a more attractive wooden enclosure. Cost is $15,000 for a six-month rental.
▪ Another option is a portable trailer latrine with the purchase cost of about $30,000. The restrooms are mobile, but not ADA-accessible. Maintenance costs are unknown.
▪ San Francisco-based Lava Mae makes buses that have been converted to include restroom and shower facilities. The cost is $75,000, but potential maintenance costs are unknown. The mobile restrooms are not ADA-accessible.
▪ The Portland Loo would cost about $70,000 to buy and another $100,000 to install. The stainless steel contraptions are ADA-accessible, but must be connected to the water and sewer system.
▪ An “urban rest stop” would serve as a full-service hygiene center, but costs could exceed $1 million and would require staffing.
▪ A brand new public restroom facility with a full-service hygiene center could cost at least $2 million to build and would come with a long construction timeline.
The city estimates a six-month pilot project, with three deluxe porta-potties and walking security patrol, will cost about $85,000. Part of the “four-pronged approach” includes forging a partnership with Providence Health and Services to provide a hygiene facility for the street community at the future Community Care Center. The center, to open this year in downtown Olympia, will act as a social service hub with a focus on people with serious mental illness.
Other options include requesting longer restroom hours for city-owned park restrooms, state-owned facilities at Heritage Park and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance-owned restrooms at East Bay Public Plaza. The city will seek funding from Thurston County Public Health.
City staff will finalize costs and a timeline before bringing the matter back to the Olympia City Council in March, said City Manager Steve Hall.
The topic surfaced at Tuesday’s council meeting, where reaction to the pilot project was mixed. Several council members balked at the unsightliness of more porta-potties and expressed their frustration about the lack of action.
“One more plastic box that looks like I’m on a construction site or a campsite is not the future of Olympia that I hold,” Mayor Pro-Tem Nathaniel Jones said. “We need to find a way to solve the problem.”
Sharon Holley, program manager for the Downtown Welcome Center and Downtown Ambassadors, said her employees wear protective gear whenever they are summoned to clean up human waste.
“Most of the work we do is to try to alleviate pressure on businesses and keep them from exposing themselves to a biohazard,” said Holley, who hopes the downtown sanitation plan will revise the program’s contract to address the cleanups and related health risks. “When we talk about public bathrooms, it’s really about public health.”