One washroom facility in Vernon’s transit terminal will cost the City of Vernon around $25,000 after it was seriously damaged by a fire that was deliberately set inside on June 3.
This is just the latest in a series of vandalism incidents that forced the city to rethink the hours of operations for the washroom facilities that serve downtown visitors.
The washrooms, which were previously open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., are now only open for business from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. while one of the stalls at the transit terminal will be out of service for one to two months for repairs.
This is a result of the latest series of vandalism incidents, on the heels of the 52 that occurred in 2020.
Now, there is a threat the washrooms could be closed for good.
“You abuse it, you lose it and it’s going to be unfortunate if that happens,” Coun. Dalvir Nahal said.
Councillors Scott Anderson and Brian Quiring would like to see them closed, considering they cost the city $90,594 annually, on top of vandalism costs, which totalled more than $42,000 last year.
“I’ve had it, close ‘em. Put one of those Johnny-on-the-spot ones, like we did in Linear Park. Fix it, lock it, close it. Maybe we’ll open it periodically for Sunshine Days,” Quiring said.
From clogged toilets, vandalism, broken glass pipes, needles and blood, the washrooms have seen it all. Bylaw was called out 85 times in 2020 to deal with people misusing the stalls. Just since March this year there have been 45 calls for service between operations crews, bylaw and RCMP.
“It’s a waste of our resources,” Nahal said.
Anderson, who wants to see them closed and keys given only to bus drivers, calls the washrooms a failed experiment in the city’s attempt to clean up downtown.
“Defecating in doorways is a lot better these days than this,” Anderson said.
Regular cleanings are completed five times a day between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. and morning and evening security checks are done seven days a week.
Graffiti, garbage, fires and damage to the facility were reported as operational issues which are typically identified in the first inspection. This leads staff to believe most incidents occur between the last check at 7 p.m. and lockup at 10 p.m.
Data recorded by staff shows despite the changes made by the city, misuse at the transit terminal, specifically, is on the rise and changing the hours has had a minimal effect.
An advocate of the washrooms, Coun. Kelly Fehr has a message for whoever is damaging the facilities: “You’re an idiot and stop doing that.”
He knows it’s only a matter of time before council agrees to close the bathrooms, and it’s the last thing he wants to see.
“We put these in place for those who don’t have a home and a place to go to the bathroom and I think it’s inhumane to take that away.”
At the request of Coun. Kari Gares, city staff will look into the cost of retrofitting a timer on the doors which gives patrons only a certain period to do their business before the door flings open (to prevent people from camping out, sleeping or doing other business in the facilities.