When you hear the terms self-cleaning or automatic, you wouldn't think: these toilets are high maintenance.
But Clare LePan says the cost to keep the self-cleaning public toilets in East Village operational, and safe, was a problem for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.
"We've had increasing challenges as it relates to the maintenance and life cycle of those facilities themselves, along with some challenges related to safety in and around the use of the facilities," LePan said.
CMLC plans to spend about $800,000 to construct new facilities that will stand the test of time — with the help of a design consultant.
A jury made up of members of the local architecture community and other leaders in that field will oversee the design competition.
The two self-cleaning toilets were installed in 2011. LePan said the project cost about $326,000.
The bathroom hours were scaled back in 2014 after police said people were using drugs in the private space, out of public view. The toilets went from being accessible 24 hours a day to washrooms that would open only during special events.
"Ultimately, as they are now, they've been in place for over a decade," LePan said. "We started to look at an analysis of maybe there's a better solution that provides the facilities and that infrastructure in the community, but in a way that people feel safe using them."
Toilet troubles take a toll
In early 2022, CMLC closed the toilets.
And now, after more than a decade of trials and tribulations, those automated toilets are permanently out of order.
A "No Public Washrooms" sign hangs on the front door of nearby Bow Cycle. Sales manager Geoff Whittaker says the staff usually direct anyone desperate for relief to the public toilets outside.
He said it's costly and not safe to open the store's facilities up for public use.
"I think it is needed down here, for sure," Whittaker said. "You could probably double or triple the number of washrooms that they currently have."
Whittaker isn't sure what the solution is but hopes the new facilities perform better than the old ones.
Temporary bathrooms a relief from disorder problems
Public loos are still available in the area. Two temporary restrooms have been set up near the East Village public gardens, playground and off-leash dog park.
LePan said even the temporary facilities are faring better than the ones along the river pathway.
"We've really seen a decrease in the maintenance … and some of the safety concerns tied with those facilities," LePan said. "These are sort of a more basic washroom facility. They're more analogous to the washroom facilities that are on St. Patrick's Island, which have been operating quite smoothly since the park opened a few years ago."
There are only three automated public washrooms in Calgary. The other one at Tomkins Park on 17th Avenue S.W. is managed by the City of Calgary. It costs $50,000 a year to operate and has had its own issues. That bathroom had a few temporary unscheduled closures this summer because of vandalism.
The city told CBC News it has no plans to shut down the public loo in the Beltline.
"You can't remove [public bathrooms] completely, but they need to be available to all citizens at whatever level of need that they have,. And so we're hoping that this process helps provide that," LePan said.
The new East Village bathrooms should be ready by 2023.
The self-cleaning toilets will likely be removed either during the construction phase or once the new facilities are up and running.