BERLIN – Town officials agreed to delay plans for permanent restrooms at Stephen Decatur Park as they explore ways to prevent the vandalism taking place at facilities elsewhere in town.
On Monday that Berlin Town Council agreed to reprioritize projects on Berlin’s Community Parks and Playgrounds grant application. While there were initially plans to seek funding for restrooms at Stephen Decatur Park, at the recommendation of staff elected officials agreed to give priority to basketball court lights at Henry Park instead.
Town Administrator Laura Allen said reprioritizing the list would give staff time to explore ways to better manage public restrooms before applying for funding to install permanent restrooms at Stephen Decatur Park.
“We want a little more time,” she said.
Currently, the town has public restrooms at Henry Park and adjacent to town hall on William Street. Both locations, which are visited by the town’s cleaning contractor at least once a day, have been a cause for concern.
“Both the Henry Park restrooms and the William Street restrooms have experienced regular vandalism including human waste smeared throughout, objects — such as landscape stones — placed in the toilets, fixtures — including paper dispensers and sinks — pulled off the walls, vent screens kicked in, ceiling tiles stolen and drug paraphernalia being found by the cleaning contractor and visitors,” Allen wrote in a report to the council.
Allen said the restrooms on William Street had been subject to vandalism prior to the installation of the new permanent restrooms at Henry Park. Knowing the new restrooms could be a target, officials tried to design them appropriately, with sinks and fixtures that were less easy to pull off or damage. The bathrooms were also designed with timers and automatic locks so that they’d only be available to the public during park hours.
“It’s pretty maintenance intensive,” Allen said. “It’s not happening every day but it’s happening with regular frequency.”
She said it made sense to delay installing any more public restrooms until the town found a way to handle the ongoing vandalism. She said officials were exploring options, including potentially hiring a person to monitor the restrooms.
“We want some time to figure out what might work,” she said, adding that the issue was that the town had created a private public space. “To what extent can you control and regulate what goes on in that space?”
Mayor Gee Williams said the town didn’t have the answers yet but was committed to finding a solution.
“Every time we do something new there are some good things and there are some things we didn’t anticipate…,” he said. “A year should give us a good baseline. Some of these issues we just did not anticipate.”
Mary Bohlen, the town’s administrative services director, said the town would delay its request for Stephen Decatur Park restroom funding for a year and would instead seek a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant for basketball court lighting for Henry Park.
Bohlen said the lights would have to be turned on manually by users and would not be able to be turned on after a certain hour, such as 10 p.m.
Councilman Elroy Brittingham said he didn’t object to the lights but wanted to be sure the council was able revisit the hours for the lights before they were installed.
“Before we decide on the rules, the timing of the lighting, I’d like to revisit that,” he said. Councilman Dean Burrell agreed.
The council voted 4-0, with Councilman Thom Gulyas absent, to approve reprioritizing the projects.