City officials appeared to favor the “Portland Loo” public bathroom design for a permanent facility in Lewiston. City of Portland, Ore.

LEWISTON — The city could install a permanent public restroom in a downtown location later this year if funding is approved by the Lewiston City Council.

During a workshop this week, a majority of the council appeared in favor of an option to pursue a permanent public bathroom structure, known as the “Portland Loo,” or a similar style, which have become popular with municipalities.

As of now, $131,000 toward the project is included in next year’s Capital Improvement Plan, which is on course to be approved by the council later this month.

City officials say offering public bathrooms is tied to Lewiston’s image, and is currently a necessity to address health concerns and the city’s homeless population.

Offering public bathrooms and other day shelter or warming shelter facilities was included in recommendations from Lewiston’s Housing Committee late last year, and, according to a city memorandum, is also a top priority for the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee.

The city experimented with a short-term solution this past winter, when two portable restrooms were placed at Kennedy Park and the “PUG” park on Bartlett Street.

Dale Doughty, deputy city administrator, told officials this week the trial run did not end on a good note. While the portable bathrooms did well throughout the winter, he said, as spring arrived the bathrooms were vandalized. Crews found feces on the walls, and the city’s vendor removed the portable bathroom from Kennedy Park earlier than planned.

Councilors seemed to support the “Portland Loo” structure due to its stainless steel construction, which is more resistant to vandalism and graffiti. Members of the city staff also said “Portland Loo” structures are easier to monitor and clean than traditional, stand-alone restroom buildings.

During a presentation to the council, Doughty said the city has long had issues with individuals “performing bodily functions in right of ways, parks, alleyways, garages and on private property.” He said City Hall, the library and shelters have served to partially fill the need for restrooms, but they have limitations.

He said as the city promotes itself as a destination for dining and events, public restrooms will improve Lewiston’s image, “if managed well.”

A location for the “Portland Loo” has yet to be decided, but Doughty said several are under consideration, including in the vicinity of the Oak Street parking garage.

A portable toilet was placed in Kennedy Park in Lewiston this past winter, but was removed earlier than planned due to vandalism. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

He said Lewiston police identified the Oak Street garage as a consistent issue, and that there are a few adjacent parking lots that could be used. If successful, the city may also consider other locations in the future, including Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

Councilors said it is time for the city to do something about the issue.

Councilor Alicia Rea said the location should be chosen to “lessen the hotspots” that police outlined, adding she had seen video of people using the Oak Street garage as a bathroom.

Councilor Luke Jensen said he was conflicted about where the restroom should go, saying if the facility is meant for the homeless population, it should not be located near the business district. He said he was hesitant to put more funding toward “the state’s responsibility” in addressing homelessness, but said, “I know we need to deal with the issue.”

Jensen said he also had “serious worries” about the permanent structure and the potential for substance use or sexual assaults.

The “Portland Loo” was invented in 2012 by the city of Portland, Oregon in partnership with a fabrication company. The public bathrooms were designed to “prevent problems that are commonly experienced with public toilets,” according to portlandloo.com.

They feature open grating that allows you to see if people are inside, and are billed as easy to clean and having common components that are easy to replace. Portland, Oregon, now has 18 in operation.

Doughty said despite the council choosing the design, the city is “not tied to a brand.” If the project were funded, Public Works would “take the guidance provided and find a unit that has the attributes of the option presented and at the best value we can get,” he said.

Mayor Mark Cayer said “any community that truly attracts economic development for visitors has public facilities.”

Councilor Lee Clement said he had received complaints from downtown business owners regarding public urination and other issues.

“It’s something we have to do,” Clement said. “Placement is key. We have to put them somewhere they’ll be utilized.”

Councilor Zack Pettengill said he was not initially a fan of the “Portland Loo” design, but said he recently saw one while in Austin, Texas.

“It looked decent,” he said, “for it being a public bathroom on a sidewalk.”

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