City’s gotta go with more toilets: McKenney

Public washrooms could cost up to $400,000, staff find, Ottawa East News, May 24, 2015
Emma Jackson

When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go – and Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney is hoping the city will go towards installing public toilets in high-traffic parks.

The downtown councillor asked staff to analyse the cost of installing toilets in a public space like Dundonald Park.

What staff found is a huge variance in cost depending on your standards of comfort.

The options range from $1,500 a year for rented portable toilets in the summer months to $400,000 for a futuristic self-cleaning, fully-automatic vestibule.

Operational and maintenance costs could also vary widely. Staff estimated the costs between $5,000 and $100,000 a year.

While McKenney said she wasn’t surprised by the costs, she said it’s still worth thinking about investing in public facilities.

“People want to be out and active and you have to provide the amenities for that,” she said. “This is one of them.”

There are a number of groups in Centretown that could benefit from accessible public washrooms, according to a report put together by the Toilets Please 4 Dundonald Park project.

Seniors may be more willing to take part in community activities if they know there’s a washroom available and families could spend longer at the park knowing their small kids have somewhere to go.

Centretown’s many apartment-dwelling families would be better able to make use of a space like Dundonald Park, their only chance at a backyard.

“We’ve all been in a situation where you’ve been in need of a toilet,” said TP4DP community organizer Kristina Ropke. “It’s a very basic need we all have. We can all understand it.”

She said the issue is one of equity, to make sure that people of all abilities and income levels can use Dundonald Park without having to worry about access to a toilet.

As part of the larger Gotta Go campaign to include toilets at major transit hubs and public spaces, Ropke said the city is being short-sighted.

“If you want to encourage more people to use public transit, you have to do a better job of it,” she said. The group especially pushed for washrooms at Bayview and Hurdman stations, where there is little nearby to serve riders.

McKenney’s inquiry to staff didn’t get into the debate about transit station washrooms — she stuck to Dundonald Park as an example of an urban space that can be well-served by a toilet.

She said her ultimate goal is to initiate a pilot project, either at Dundonald Park or at several parks within the core.

She’s also hoping to arm local activists like the TP4DP and Gotta Go campaigns with the information they need to lobby for these facilities in future budgets.


Staff found a huge range of cost options if the city was to pursue a pilot project or a public washroom program in the future.

The cheapest option is to rent portable toilets at $1,500 each and then spend $1,000 to build a privacy screen around them. But these port-a-potties lack heat and lighting, so they’re limited to the summer season only. And they’re a magnet for vandalism, staff said in a report to the community and protective services committee.

Still, it’s not an unprecedented arrangement. The city currently sets up about 70 portable toilets each summer at various facilities to support park programming. That number swells to 120 units when the festival season kicks into high gear. The toilets are managed by the city but usually funded by the community groups and sports teams who rely on them.

Staff could alternatively install a “precast building” with indoor plumbing and lighting. These units still wouldn’t be useful in the winter, as they aren’t insulated or heated, but they’re durable and more resistant to vandals, staff said.

That extra comfort comes at a cost, however. A two-stall unit would cost about $125,000 to install plus maintenance.

Another, fancier, alternative is a custom-built washroom that would be in service all year round. Those two-stall units would cost between $300,000 to $350,000 to install, plus maintenance, staff found.

The priciest option available is one the city of Toronto has already committed to, and one that McKenney said would put Ottawa on the path to becoming a truly welcoming world-class city: fully-automated, self-cleaning washrooms.

These stainless steel contraptions are unlocked by a coin or token, and give you 20 minutes to do your business before the door opens and the sanitizing spray-down begins. The units are heated and insulated, so they can be used all year round, and they’re fully accessible. They cost $400,000 each.

Toronto plans to install 20 of them over the next 20 years.

Emma Jackson
Email: [email protected]