An outdoor public loo will soon be providing relief to patrons in one area of downtown Victoria.
Victoria councillors unanimously agreed during a committee of the whole meeting Thursday to spend $400,000 on a new universally accessible public washroom that will be installed on Broughton Street, near the corner of Douglas Street, adjacent to the Island Savings Bank branch.
The design of the new prefabricated washroom unit will be similar to the one on Langley Street — dubbed the Langley Loo — that opened in 2012 at a cost of around $90,000.
To make room for the facility, a new sidewalk and curb bulge will be constructed on Broughton Street, resulting in the removal of two on-street parking stalls while a third parking stall will be converted into an accessible parking stall.
As part of the project, a new curb ramp and improved crosswalk alignments will also be made at Douglas and Broughton intersection and the city will be upgrading the nearby sidewalk, lighting fixtures in the area. A nearby cherry tree will also be removed, however, a replacement tree will be planted somewhere along Broughton Street.
Derrick Newman, the city’s assistant director of construction and facilities management, told councillors Thursday that the washroom facility itself will cost $200,000 while the remaining $200,000 is allocated for site work, such as the planned upgrades, and design costs. He also said staff explored other alternative sites but felt the location on Broughton Street was best.
“We did explore an option on Douglas Street that was just north of the Strathcona Hotel property line … basically where the taxi stand currently sits, but after consulting with the owner of the hotel as well as VicPD, they raised concerns with regards to public safety and some of the challenges that location might present,” he said.
A recent city staff report notes that councillors had previously approved the project in 2019 as part of the city’s financial plan that year but that the project was put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic. Newman said since then, costs have increased dramatically across the country for such facilities.
“We have seen a substantial increase in those types of amenities given the public demand across the nation,” he said.
During Thursday’s meeting, councillors expressed “sticker shock” at the cost of the project but felt having another public washroom downtown was not only necessary but beneficial for the city.
“I, like others, have a little bit of sticker shock. It does seem like a lot of money that needs to be expended but I do think it does need to be expended. Access to public washrooms is a basic human right and perhaps the most basic human need,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.
“Sticker shock for sure. $400,000 seems like a lot compared to what we paid for in the past … we may not like it but it seems rationale,” added Coun. Marianne Alto.
While the price of a new outdoor washroom is higher than expected, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said it fits in with the budget and that council has already allocated funding for the project. She also said the washroom will benefit not just the homeless population and tourists, but everyone.
“We know that people who work, taxi drivers, bus drivers, are always looking for a public washroom 24/7,” said Thornton-Joe. “But, we also hear from the bar crowd. I have to admit, too often I have seen people jump out of their cars in suites, urinating in a doorway which frustrates me to no end. Seniors who say they want to find a washroom quickly and parents, mothers, who say they are looking for one. So, it is not just one group.”
Coun. Geoff Young, who like the others felt the cost was high, said the location on Broughton Street is appropriate for such a facility. He said it would be ideal in the future if councillors and staff were to consider other design options that were more “economical.”
“It’s very difficult to find an appropriate location for these things. I think the location that is proposed is a good one. Obviously, there are some other costs in terms of curbing and so forth. The cost is disappointing but as councillor Thornton-Joe pointed out, it is expected nowadays that these things will be open to all genders and there is a certain standard that is accepted to make them fit into the downtown,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lisa Helps stressed that it was important for the public — and media members — to understand that the costs associated with the project do not result in a budget increase.
“There has been no budget increase. This is the budget staff were given so all of this sticker shock, maybe we just forgot what we approved in 2019, but there has been no increase to this budget from what was originally approved.”
The new washroom is anticipated to open in the fall of 2022.