Trauger column: Observations on the great restroom debate
You gotta go. Or, your recently potty-trained toddler announces that they “hafta go potty.” The question is, where? This is a problem, not only for Glenwood, but for other cities, large and small. Lack of clean, safe public restrooms is an issue no matter where you travel.
As I was doing some research, I ran across Colorado Revised Statute 25-41-101, the Restroom Access Act. As I understand it, this law states that a retail establishment that has a toilet for employees shall allow customers to use the toilet if four conditions are met. Those conditions include the fact that, 1. The customer is lawfully on the premises and has an “eligible” medical condition; 2. At least three employees are working at the time; 3. The toilet is in a safe location; and, 4. A public restroom is not immediately accessible.
So, for an establishment to simply not allow any customers – or those on their premises – whether they have made a purchase or not – to use their restrooms could be violation of this statute.
Public buildings, like City Hall, the library and courthouse have restrooms available during hours they are open – some more easily accessed than others. However, our Chamber Resort Association Visitors Center, a common place in many communities to find a comfort station, does not offer that convenience, which, in my opinion, was a mistake in planning or cooperative arrangements when they relocated to their current space at the corner of Eighth and Grand.
Glenwood’s Downtown Development Authority has made development of restrooms on the south side of the Grand Avenue Bridge a top priority for 2019. It would appear that Glenwood Springs City Council is also pushing for restrooms in the downtown area – potentially on the north side. While this is probably the right thing to do, several things must be taken into consideration.
Restrooms must be convenient and easily accessible.
Originally, restrooms were planned to the west of the new Grand Avenue Bridge – across from the Grind. I was never a supporter of this idea. While designed to “fit” in with the rest of the construction, this location seemed obtrusive. Additionally, it was estimated to be quite costly.
Recently, the Tourism Promotion Board recommended Centennial Park as a preferred location. While better than the area across from the Grind, this is not ideal for a number of reasons but location is probably the most important. Centennial Park has become a hangout for vagrants. Adding public restrooms in this area would further encourage that, as well as other activities mentioned below.
The two preferred locations, in my opinion, would be the currently vacant lot in the middle of the east side of the 700 Block of Grand Avenue and the controversial landing area on the North side. While not perfect, restrooms in these locations could work as long as some other conditions were met.
Safety & Cleanliness
Face it, many restrooms have been closed to public use because of safety issues. Public restrooms are a refuge from weather, snow and cold in winter and heat in the summer for those who have no other alternative. They offer a private place to shoot-up and get high and make drug deals. In fact, there are many deaths from drug overdoses in restrooms. With no one monitoring things and behind locked doors, someone who has overdosed has little chance of survival.
Cleanliness is a huge issue. Public restrooms must be cleaned several times a day to insure the public’s health. A study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology discovered more than 77,000 genetic traces of microbes in public restrooms including influenza, streptococcus, E. coli, hepatitis, MRSA, salmonella, shigella and norovirus.
In discussions with Police Chief Terry Wilson, public restrooms are difficult to patrol to insure public safety.
While we want restrooms that are pleasing to the eye and functional, it is easy to see that facilities in the downtown could run significantly more than $200,000. Yet, that does not take into consideration the largest cost: ongoing maintenance and cleaning. For each restroom, that cost could be anywhere from $20,000 to $240,000 per year.
With a tight budget, how is the city of Glenwood to maintain these restrooms?
One possibility is something the city is looking at; some kind of a public private partnership. However, the partnership must extend beyond building the restrooms. It must include specifics for monitoring and maintaining them.
Another possibility is to ask those that use them to pay for the use. Pay toilets generally went away quite a few decades ago. However, a recent survey by Bradley Corporation said that 56 percent of Americans would gladly pay for the use of a clean, safe restroom.
The other option would be the use of an attractions tax — or at least part of it — to help maintain these facilities as they should be.
The restrooms that Glenwood builds must meet a very high standard of design, safety, cleanliness and be in a convenient, easy to access location. But the final consideration is that someone – a real, live person – should be available to monitor, spot clean and call 911 if necessary. Denver is trying a mobile restroom facility, complete with an attendant. The cost is high, but the cost is higher if you build something that is not usable by the general public. Without having someone to monitor, call the police and clean things up, public restrooms are not a place I intend to take my grandchildren. No thank you.
We will call it a day and head home or back to our lodging before I subject my youngsters to this.
Kathryn Trauger lives in and writes from her hometown of Glenwood Springs. She has served the community as a member of Glenwood Springs City Council and chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and she currently chairs the city’s Financial Advisory Board. Her column, Perspective, appears monthly in the Post Independent. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-379-4849.