Planners discuss public restrooms

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BRATTLEBORO — Following the first summer of having Porta Potty facilities downtown, town planners are looking at more durable alternatives.

Andrew Graminski, planning technician for the town, brought forward two options at the Select Board meeting last week: The Portland Loo and an automated public toilet by Urben Blue.

Graminski said the Portland Loo was developed in Oregon.

"It's kind of an industrial kind of unit that's a single unit, unisex — everyone can use it," he said during the Select Board meeting. "It's stainless steel. It's easy to clean."

Graminski said someone would still need to clean the unit every day. He noted the facility could potentially be put anywhere with a connection to water and sewer.

"Louvers" found at the top and bottom of the units would help prevent crime, Graminski said.

"It's basically just open slits so it still kind of creates this environment of privacy but at the same time, police officers can see if there's illicit activity occurring in that unit itself," he said. "They're also timed so it limits how long you can be in it."

The unit is considered accessible by Americans with Disabilities Act standards, according to a town memo. It is estimated to cost up to $140,945 with annual maintenance ranging around $11,000 to $12,000.

An automated public toilet developed by Urben Blue of Canada is "very modern in terms of what you can do with it," Graminski said. "It's self-cleaning."

Material in the facility is "graffiti resistant," Graminski said. Regarding misuse, he noted that multiple people could fit inside but it also has a timer allowing for 15 minutes each visit.

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The facility is considered accessible by ADA standards, according to a town memo. It can cost $161,650 for a single unit, $226,150 for a double unit, and $226,150 for a triple unit.

Planners are looking at potential grant or funding opportunities for the project.

"I'd like to be really clear that nobody's proposing this level of expenditure at the moment," Town Manager Peter Elwell said. "We're sharing information about what we're exploring."

Town staff included $10,000 for bathrooms in the fiscal year 2021 proposed budget, which is being considered by the Select Board as it prepares for annual Representative Town Meeting in March. That "would be sufficient for another summer of putting the Porta Potties back out in the three locations where we had them this summer," Elwell said.

"We do think that is an important action for the town to keep taking both as a service to individuals who don't have any other place to go to the bathroom during the nighttime hours, and as a general convenience and as a matter of general public health for the benefit of the whole community," he said. "It was something that emerged unexpectedly ... We knew that it needed quick action. We took that action even though it was an unbudgeted expense."

The current Porty Potty facilities are "old but they are serviceable," Elwell said, adding that even if the board decides not to purchase a more permanent alternative, the bathrooms can be used again and be put out even earlier in the year this time. They have been at the Preston Lot, the High Grove Lot and the Common.

Elwell said the town did not track any data on the first year of having the facilities available. But having heard from those who perform the maintenance, he noted the heaviest use occurred at the Common near the courthouse and Brattleboro Retreat.

"We think that's because of the variety of uses that happen there," he said. "So there were times when it was being used by people who didn't have anywhere else to go in the nighttime hours and there were times when it was being used by a broad cross section of the public when there were events happening there or even just folks who were enjoying some quiet time in the park."

He said the facility at Preston Lot had been the second most used.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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