Seattle park users complain about bathrooms closing in winter
Almost daily, Gustaf Karlholm takes his dog for a run in the heavily wooded Ravenna-Cowen Park complex in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. But throughout the winter, the Seattle realtor and mortgage broker is frustrated to see other park users trying to get into restrooms, only to find them closed.
The popular park is one of dozens across the city that closes its bathrooms, or “comfort stations,” for three months in the winter.
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In total, Seattle Parks and Recreation is closing about two-thirds of its roughly 90 outhouses, partly to save money on maintenance due to budget concerns, partly to prevent pipes from freezing, according to the gatekeeper. spokesman for the parks department, Joelle Hammerstad.
“We are truly sorry for the inconvenience caused to park users. I know bathrooms are big problems for people. We wish we could keep them open all year round,” she says.
“They’ve been opening parkland bathrooms year-round for decades, and then all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Oh, we have to winterize?
He is one of many who have complained to both the parks department and the city council, calling the closures myopic.
Hammersted counters many bathrooms have been built without heating, and if the pipes freeze and break, the costs would be much higher.
Karlholm points out that even during the winter, Ravenna-Cowen is very busy with people jogging, walking, playing sports, cycling, and using the popular playground.
“You have families, you have picnics, bike meetups, you have all the groups that volunteer and work in the park. It’s constant,” says Karlholm. “We have groups of around 30 preschoolers who go to play in the park daily. How are they supposed to handle this?
In response to a letter sent by Karlholm, Laurie Dunlap of the Office of the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation in Seattle writes that additional staff and funds would be needed to keep toilet blocks open after the “high season” of June through October.
“Over the past five years, Seattle Parks and Recreation’s maintenance budget has suffered significant cuts and our maintenance crews have been significantly reduced.”
Dunlap also writes that suggestions to keep toilet blocks open without cleaning or restocking are “unsustainable”.
Karlholm argues that the parks department isn’t actually saving money because cleaners who still work in the parks have to travel elsewhere for restroom breaks, dramatically reducing their productivity.
He says the large homeless population that sleeps in Ravenna and Cowen parks continues to defecate in the park, causing additional cleaning for maintenance workers and creating hazards for park users.
The Park Service keeps a number of restrooms open at its busiest parks year-round, including Green Lake, Lincoln Park, and Volunteer Park. The department also contracts to install and maintain portable toilets, primarily at sports fields or other high-use sites, Dunlap wrote in its response to Karlholm.
“However, portable toilets are problematic,” she writes. “They attract vandalism and other crimes (drug dealing, prostitution), neighbors complain they look and smell bad, and the current cost of portable toilet rentals is around $500 per months, which does not include the added cost of infrequent repairs needed for broken latches or when the laptop is knocked over or exploded, so laptops are only a very limited solution.
A new Seattle Park District approved by voters last August could help solve some of the funding issues. Property taxes created by the new entity will provide money for city parks and recreation, which will allow for expanded hours and services, including winterizing some comfort stations.
In addition, the new park area will allow for increased staff and improved bathrooms over the remaining nine months, Hammerstad says.
“Bathrooms in the summer will get more staff passes to clean them more frequently,” she says. “A big thing that people are really asking for and wanting is just bathrooms that are clean, that are painted, that don’t smell, that are more modern. We will therefore strive to make it a more pleasant experience.
Karlholm argues that keeping bathrooms open to park users year-round should be a core function of the department and not subject even to seasonal closings. “I think if they feel like they don’t have money, then they don’t know how to manage money, and if they feel like they have to prioritize, then their priorities are messed up.”