A request for more accessible, public bathrooms in the town sparked a debate amongst Smithers council members at their Nov. 22 meeting.
Access Smithers, an advocacy organization that represents the community’s voice, sent a letter to council after being approached on the need for accessible public washrooms in a couple of different areas.
The letter asked the town for accessible public toilets to be put in at the Smithers Skate Park; Willowvale Marsh in close proximity to Pacific Avenues’ accessible parking lot and at Elks Park. The organization said these are all high-use areas located a fair distance from downtown and people require proper, accessible toilets to accommodate needs while in these recreational areas.
Councillor Frank Wray was frank about the situation.
“The riverbank is falling into the river, this is threatening our roads, threatening our airport, we have bigger fish to fry,” he said. “And unless there was an actual grant that just specifically spoke to washrooms. I don’t see us being able to do this in this term.”
Mayor Gladys Atrill disagreed.
“I know this is hard, and I know they’re expensive, but there’s a cost to not having them. And we also hear complaints from places about what happens when you don’t have an open bathroom. So I’m going to leave it for now. But we’re deluding ourselves if we think this is something that has no cost, when we don’t do it, it has a cost. And it also diminishes the value of the community,” she said. “So to say we can’t do a bathroom this entire term, I’m not sure I can actually accept that.”
While there is a public bathroom in Elks Park, it is often closed because of ongoing vandalism. It would also need some upgrades to make it accessible.
In 2017, the town put in a public bathroom, called the Portland Loo, near the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue. That toilet is resistant to graffiti, has an ability to be checked more easily for illegal activity and has a small footprint. However, it came at a cost of almost $200,000.
Councillor Wray said the often closed bathrooms at Elks Parks illustrates why the town went with the Portland Loo rather than a brick-and-mortar building. He added while he thinks the town can’t afford any more of the Portland Loos, he said that the town definitely can’t afford to run brick-and-mortar public washrooms.
No decision on bathrooms was made but Mayor Atrrill asked council to keep it in the back of their minds.