Downtown Olympia has a bathroom problem.
The idea of a 24-hour restroom for the downtown population has been floating around for several years. Business owners sometimes find feces in their entryways, and alleyways double as urinals.
Cities like Seattle have had mixed success with 24-hour public toilets, which also attracted drug users and prostitution, according to reports.
However, both Seattle and Olympia are looking to Portland, Oregon, which has spawned a trend in public toilets with The Portland Loo.
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Rob Richards, program manager of Olympia’s Downtown Ambassadors and Clean Team, knows exactly where he’d put one: The Artesian Commons on Fourth Avenue, a popular gathering place for the street community, many of whom also support 24-hour toilets.
“If I were king of the world, I’d put a Portland Loo where the porta-potty is at the Commons,” Richards said. “I think it will get universal support.”
Portland has eight of these stainless steel restrooms across the city. The compact restrooms could fit in a parking space, and come with anti-graffiti clear coating and a hose for cleaning. They are designed for privacy, but have slatted openings along the bottom to discourage mischief.
“You can see people’s legs and shins,” said Evan Madden of Madden Fabrication, which is building Loos for clients all over the U.S. “They’re designed to take a lot of abuse.”
The biggest barrier in downtown Olympia is the cost. The Portland Loo starts at $90,000 for a base unit on top of any plumbing, maintenance and supervision costs.
However, a 24-hour restroom appears to be gaining traction. The city’s Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA) Board has shown interest in setting aside money and forming partnerships for finding a solution. The PBIA is expected to meet later in March about the issue.
Brian Wilson, the city’s downtown liaison, said the process for a 24-hour restroom is still in the beginning stages, and no specific location has been identified. He noted that a Honey Bucket isn’t effective enough to meet the need downtown.
“We’re seeing a lot of feces and urine in our alleyways, but also these nighttime businesses are becoming public restrooms,” Wilson said. “Our interest is in seeing well managed and maintained facilities.”
The 24-hour restroom is also a health and sanitation issue, specifically with feces-borne pathogens.
“It would be a good idea to find a way to have 24-7 restrooms downtown,” said Don Sloma, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. “There’s pretty clear evidence there’s a problem downtown.”
Other restrooms in downtown Olympia have attracted their share of problems, namely with drug-related behavior and the inability to provide adequate security. In a recent example, the city had to close the restrooms on the west side of Percival Landing last summer because of needles and drug paraphernalia. The city’s public restrooms are open from 8 a.m. until dusk.