City of Burnaby exploring building more public washrooms, including self-cleaning facilities

Apr 18 2023, 8:38 pm

More and improved public washroom facilities could be coming to Burnaby, particularly to locations within its system of public parks.

According to a recent City of Burnaby staff report, there are washrooms in 85 of the 166 park locations across the municipality, which means just 51% of the parks have washrooms.

Moreover, not all washrooms are equal.

Of the 85 parks with washrooms, 38 sites have porta potties, three are precast vault facilities (underground pits that accumulate human waste), and 44 are permanent washrooms.

All major and destination parks have permanent washrooms, but most neighbourhood parks do not. Porta potties have been placed in parks where summer recreation programs are held or at locations where general park visitation is high.

In March 2022, the previous makeup of Burnaby City Council initiated work on an improved public washroom strategy, including the exploration of converting all porta potties into permanent washrooms.

City staff now intend to begin detailed planning in 2024 for improving washroom facilities in parks.

burnaby parks public washroom map

Map of public washrooms at Burnaby public parks, April 2023. (City of Burnaby)

Prior to beginning detailed planning efforts, the intent is to start a pilot project sometime this year to test the use of a self-cleaning washroom.

“The conversion of temporary washrooms to permanent washrooms is an opportunity to upgrade to new standards and consolidate park operational service areas into structures. The advisability and feasibility of using the new self-cleaning washroom models would be advantageous to explore prior to the development of the full washroom replacement strategy,” reads the City staff report.

High-tech, automated self-cleaning washrooms carry a higher upfront acquisition and installation cost, ranging from $439,000 for a single stall and $573,000 for double stalls.

However, over time, the high construction costs could be at least partially offset by the self-cleaning function’s relatively lower annual operating costs of $37,000 for a single stall and $48,000 for double stalls.

The City of Vancouver has automated single-stall public toilets at 11 locations, mainly in and around the downtown Vancouver peninsula. Their construction and ongoing operating costs are completely funded by Outfront JC Decaux as part of a larger street furniture public-private partnership in exchange for advertising revenue opportunities.

Automatic self-cleaning washrooms are cleaned, disinfected, and dried after each use.

vancouver granville robson automated self-cleaning toilet public washroom

The automated single-stall, self-cleaning public washroom at the intersection of Granville and Robson streets in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

vancouver granville robson automated self-cleaning toilet public washroom

The automated single-stall, self-cleaning public washroom at the intersection of Granville and Robson streets in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

vancouver granville robson automated self-cleaning toilet public washroom

The automated single-stall, self-cleaning public washroom at the intersection of Granville and Robson streets in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The high cost of properly operating and maintaining public washrooms — not the one-time initial construction cost — is generally noted by municipalities in Metro Vancouver as the main barrier to the provision of such facilities, especially in areas of high use and from instances of vandalism.

Currently, the City of Burnaby’s operating cost for all public washrooms in parks is about $3.5 million annually.

Temporary porta potties are rented at a cost of $1,200 per season, which includes the contractor’s cost of pumping out the waste.

For other structure-based options, a single-stall precast vault washroom costs $52,000 to build and $42,000 annually to operate.

A permanent medium-sized washroom with three stalls in a conventional building structure would cost $831,000 to build and $76,000 annually to operate. A larger version of the permanent structure to fit five stalls and a satellite shop would cost $1.4 million to build and $96,000 annually to operate.

It should be emphasized that none of the aforementioned estimated costs include sewer and water connections, site changes, foundations, and trail connections.

Furthermore, City of Burnaby staff states new permanent washroom facilities could provide opportunities to improve ancillary facilities that support park operations and uses, such as the inclusion of additional space for janitorial storage, recreation program storage, and showers, as well as the controls for automation irrigation systems, spray pads, and park lighting.

In Summer 2022, the Vancouver Park Board completed its first public washrooms of the “Portland Loo” prefabricated model, which is generally regarded as a more durable design allowing for easier cleaning and maintenance. According to a 2021 Park Board staff report, the completion of the pair of Portland Loo units at Crab Park carried a total budget of about $700,000, including $384,200 for on-site work. The previous Park Board approved a strategy to expand and improve public washrooms at parks, but it requires further funding for implementation.

Last year, as part of its Transport 2050 plan’s 10-year priorities, TransLink announced it will launch a new public washroom strategy, with the program to install the first six new public washrooms at busy bus exchanges and stations at a total cost of $6.4 million. Each washroom location will have multiple stalls.

city of vancouver public washroom map

City of Vancouver public washroom map, as of November 2020. (Vancouver Park Board)

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