By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The official name of the Albert Street transit shelter in Rotary Harbourfront Park is now the Albert Street Washroom.
“To ensure that the general public clearly understands the scope of service provided,” said the motion passed by Cobourg council this week.
This building has become the focus of a phenomenon becoming more and more common to municipal buildings that offer some degree of privacy – like public washrooms – where criminal behaviour can be carried on without interruption. This has been a particular concern during the current opioid crisis.
At the Albert Street Washroom, this situation has escalated in recent months. The staff report from Director of Community Services Brian Geerts and Director of Legislative Services Brent Larmer gave some statistics, including 31 incidents between Nov. 3 and Dec. 10 (including one officer assault), three occasions when the building had to be closed for safety issues, and the fact that bylaw enforcement officers are summoned to the site several times a day.
Statistics from the Cobourg Police service record 86 calls to the building in 2020, 153 in 2021, and 217 in 2022 (as of Dec.12). Reasons for these calls included mischief, theft and noise complaints.
The motion council passed calls for staff to re-evaluate the service levels, safety considerations and funding requirements to provide safe and effective public services, with an acknowledgment that dedicated staff and contractor resources will be required at least over the holiday season.
The anticipated Jan. 9 closure of this building will mean a total lack of washrooms in what is essentially a municipal outdoor recreation setting, Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty pointed out. As a new season begins for the rink and the Christmas lights beckon families to visit, there will be no washrooms for them.
Beatty pointed out the port-a-potties that the town deployed during the closure of public buildings in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geerts said this would alleviate the physical needs of visitors but not necessarily resolve the safety issue. A port-a-pottie is essentially a small building, he pointed out. And since accessibility is a requirement, there would be an accessible port-a-pottie which could potentially allow several people to congregate.
Should council wish to consider the option, he continued, it would be a cost of about $300 a month per unit.
Councillor Adam Bureau stated he intended to support the measure, because having a washroom to use in a public place is a human right.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland asked about the hazards posed by bags. Larmer said that bylaw officers had been summoned several times a day until the decision had been made to provide supervision at the entrance – which includes the right to inspect bags. Items found since then have included a large hunting knife, a Samurai sword and several blunt objects.
The port-a-potties set up during the pandemic were locked each evening and reopened each morning, so that they would be available only during certain hours.
Director Geerts pointed out that no official announcement of rink hours had been made as yet, so that this discussion could be had and hours could be settled. At that point, he said, the town could issue an announcement of the situation and what they could expect if they came to the park to skate or admire the lights.
Councillor Brian Darling made an amendment to the motion to make it a single accessible port-a-pottie to cut costs, and the motion passed.
Looking ahead, the report said, “the Albert St. Washrooms are no longer safe for the public to attend without security present. As the 2023 budget will be considered by Council in January and February, staff will prepare service-level options and physical building improvements to be considered at that time to maintain adequate service levels.”
The report concludes with the observation that, “the days where all public washrooms can be opened and left generally unattended are over, yet public washrooms remain an invaluable municipal service to the general public. It is critical to keep our town safe and clean for residents, businesses and visitors alike. By updating the service level to an appropriate, safe and site-specific public washroom service, including monitoring, safety, physical design and service level, the town will continue to mitigate negative effects of the opioid crisis in Cobourg