COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — It’s an issue Columbus has talked about for years and one you may have even run into yourself when you’re out and about in the city: finding a public restroom.
Now the city is spending millions of federal dollars to fix it. In just a matter of weeks, the city plans to have public restrooms with running water open and ready to go.
It was a conversation driven by the pandemic. It took three years and $2 million, but now three public bathrooms are in place in downtown Columbus.
“This conversation really came out of the pandemic and really needing to ensure that we had a healthy response for all of our residents no matter where they were,” Columbus Department of Development Deputy Director Hannah Jones said.
“We knew we had to have something finally that would allow people the dignity and the comfort and convenience of having restroom facilities available where and when they need,” Capital Crossroads & Discovery Special Improvement District Project Manager Mark Klingler said.
The stalls are built to avoid some issues. The slats at the bottom keep it just public enough so security patrols can make sure no one is sleeping or using drugs inside. To keep the bathroom and areas around it clean, the plan is for a team to come clean three times a day.
“In the beginning, it was really trying to just get people comfortable with that conversation,” Jones said.
Some did raise concerns, with one business filing a lawsuit.
“The temporary restraining order was thrown out and we were given the ability to proceed,” Jones said. “I do know that there is an appeal process underway, but it did not obligate us to stop construction.”
Building continued but with some bumps: the pandemic drove up the cost of construction.
“We had the famous supply chain issues, so costs of materials and construction skyrocketed,” Klingler said. “And in addition to that, we initially didn’t understand what the cost would be for the construction, for the difficulties of digging in the streets and finding the utilities and dealing with existing utilities.”
Now it’s all about getting the doors ready to open.
“We know there will be problems,” Klingler said. “We anticipate that the key is planning for them. And I have to say, I’m surprised at how limited those problems have been. And so, I’m optimistic that we’re going to have the same kind of success here that we’ve seen in other cities.”
The bathrooms will undergo a final inspection and approval and then be ready to open. City leaders say they’re aiming for the end of October.
The goal is to have the bathrooms open 24/7 but at the start, the hours will be limited.
“We’re going to start our program with just during our opening hours, approximately 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Klingler said.