Council mulls ballooning cost of public washrooms

The ballooning costs of renovating the public washrooms in Victoria’s Centennial Square has prompted city council to explore other options.

The ballooning costs of renovating the public washrooms in Victoria’s Centennial Square has prompted city council to explore other options for a downtown loo.

Following a lengthy debate last Thursday, councillors opted to get a cost estimate for a new stand-alone washroom facility in the civic plaza.

The public washrooms at the square have been in operation since 1965, serving 300 to 400 people a day on a 24-hour basis. Last year, council agreed to update the washrooms, setting aside a budget of $125,000.

However, shortly after the work began this year, crews discovered issues with the structural integrity of the existing walls. An assessment revealed the walls, along with a large amount of supporting infrastructure, needed to be removed as they were considered unsound, pushing the project cost to $360,000.

The $125,000 budget has already been spent and renovations have since ground to a halt. Portable toilets have been put in the square until council decides how to proceed.

Since Victoria is a capital city, most councillors agreed it should have attractive public washrooms in its civic plaza, but many were concerned that the size of the square won’t be able to accommodate another building.

“You’re talking about a building going into that square…there is no physical space that can accommodate this. It’s a really simple analysis,” said Coun. Pam Madoff. “All it’s going to do is delay with moving forward with actually getting decent washrooms in the square. To me it just makes absolutely no sense. It’s like looking at a square peg in a round hole.”

Coun. Ben Isitt said the washrooms aren’t just nice to have, they’re a must have, and relying on outhouses for a couple years does a disservice to the public. The lowest cost option, he noted, is opening the washrooms already in city hall or doing a narrow fix up to the ones already in place.

Another issue that surfaced is the cost of security around the washrooms and in the square. The city pays at least $200,000 a year for 24-hour security — a major issue for Coun. Geoff Young, who didn’t want to do the project in the first place.

Mayor Lisa Helps pointed out city staff only want to explore what building a new standalone facility would cost.

“We’re not going and building a new building today, we’re getting some information,” she said. “We need to expand our sense of the possibilities, give staff this direction and see what they can come back with.”