Public washroom to be installed at Diana Krall Plaza

It will likely be the butt of jokes for some time to come, but Nanaimo city council is flush with anticipation after voting in favour Monday to build a public restroom in the downtown core.

The $100,000 loo, to be located in the musically-themed Diana Krall Plaza, will be part of an effort to keep tourists and downtown-goers flowing while reducing cases of public urination.

Last year, 324 tickets were issued to people who couldn't hold it, many of them bar patrons in the wee morning hours.

The idea of a public washroom was initiated through the Safer Nanaimo Advisory Committee earlier this year to address health and safety issues in the city's downtown area.

During last summer, in a partnership between the city and Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, a portable washroom was installed at the corner of Bastion and Skinner streets. The pilot project was deemed successful in reducing public displays of urination.

Coun. Diane Brennan said the need for a public washroom downtown that is accessible day and night is urgent.

"The property owners and shopkeepers have expressed the problems that they encounter daily, actually, every morning. It's difficult to open up shop when you walk through your front door and it's been used as a urinal. It can sometimes be gruesome," said Brennan.

The plaza was council's preferred choice for location.

Other cities have also taken on 'the roll' of providing its citizens and visitors with round-the-clock relief. Portland, Ore., Toronto and Vancouver have all used public money to build convenient water closets, though Victoria's so-called Langley Street Loo is the one that has ascended to the throne of public washrooms – it was recently voted as Canada's best restroom.

Not all councillors were plunging into the debate with accolades, however. Coun. Bill McKay said he was miffed at the cost of the structure.

"I can't believe my ears," said McKay. "$100,000 for a toilet so we can deal with some issues relative to some people who are urinating in the middle of the night? This should be the responsibility of the bar owners, not the city. This is crazy."

Council voted 8-1 in favour, though some voted for it while holding their nose at the price.

"It would be nice to squeeze down the price, it just seems expensive, but I support it," said Coun. Jim Kipp.

Annual operational costs to maintain the washroom are pegged at about $10,000. The facility will be hooked up to water and sewer lines, will be easy to clean, is graffiti-proof, and will feature a single toilet that is easily accessible for everybody.

Jeff Ritchie, senior manager for parks and rec, said other models were considered but the chosen model, dubbed the Portland Loo, rose to the top for several reasons. He added that an exact location in the plaza will be determined upon further consultation with the RCMP, DNBIA and other stakeholders.

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