City mulls cost of security to patrol public washrooms

It’s a cost that’s tough for some Victoria councillors to swallow.

It’s a cost that’s tough for some Victoria councillors to swallow.

The price of hiring security to patrol the grounds of Victoria’s Centennial Square and public washrooms in the parkade on a 24-seven basis is approximately $215,000 a year.

Mayor Lisa Helps found out about the costs during a recent debate on what to do about the current renovation to the public washrooms — a project that’s currently stalled due to a ballooning price tag.

Security is still needed in the square since there’s many events going on, said Helps, but having the washrooms moved to a more visible place could decrease the costs of security.

“I think that’s something we need to consider when we look at the washroom budget when it comes back,” she said. “It bugs me to always have to go through a security guard to get to a washroom. It sends a very odd signal as a capital city of B.C.”

Located off Douglas Street near Pandora Avenue, the public washrooms in the Centennial Square Parkade have been in operation since 1965, serving 300 to 400 people a day on a 24-hour basis, but it’s also attracted illegal activity.

As a result, full time security has been in place for a number of years to supervise the washrooms and the square. Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe was on council when it was implemented.

“Whether it is people dealing (drugs) outside the washroom, people using (drugs) in the washroom, prostitution, there were some issues,” said Thornton-Joe, adding council also wanted to increase safety in the parkade at night.

“The stairwells, the parkade smelled horribly because of urination so we saw an opportunity for security to say you can’t be here, here’s the washrooms below.”

Thornton-Joe admits the security costs is always something the city weighs, but it’s a cost that’s necessary in order to provide washrooms to the public.

Within the past year, Victoria police have responded to 600 calls for service to Centennial Square — about one per cent of its total calls. The calls range from unwanted people to fights.

Police spokesperson Bowen Osoko said the 600 calls are to be expected for a location that involves many festivals, gatherings, protests and events. When asked if police would like video surveillance installed in the area, Osoko said the department doesn’t publicly discuss tactical or operational considerations.

The city has never talked about installing video surveillance as a deterrent for illegal activity in the square or washrooms, but Thornton-Joe said that may be a discussion council will need to have.

“We’d like to know that our washrooms are safe for everyone to use,” she said. “The staff will be bringing back options for washrooms in Centennial Square and when those options come forward, further discussion on whether we pay for security will be a part of it.”