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St. Jacobs BIA turns to township to solve lack of public washrooms

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Now that they’re coming, the focus has turned to going.

The easing of the coronavirus lockdown has seen visitors return to St. Jacobs, but a lack of public washrooms has the village’s business group scrambling to find a solution. The Business Improvement Area (BIA) board of management is hoping Woolwich Township can help.

“We have an urgent need for public washrooms in the village,” board member Bob Wilbur told councillors meeting online Tuesday night.

The lack of public facilities is an enduring issue, the tourist area having long relied on private businesses to provide washrooms to visitors. Now, with some operations still shutdown due to the COVID-19 crisis and others expressing health and safety concerns, the shortage has come to a head.

“With the farmers’ market now open and the weather improving, we are seeing a significant increase in visitor traffic in the village. Although this is welcome relief for local businesses, the absence of public washrooms is a major issue. The businesses that are open now are having difficult conversations with visitors about this every day, creating a less than desirable visitor experience,” the board said in a letter to council.            

Once a major landlord in the village, Mercedes Corp. had long looked after providing access to washrooms in locations such as its Stone Crock Restaurant. Now that the company has sold off its assets, that coordinated effort is no longer in effect, Wilbur said, noting a new approach has been on the radar for a long while, but never addressed.

“There were questions being asked. The issue is not going to go away.”

The BIA is proposing a couple of options. The first involves renting portable toilets to be placed in four locations around the village, at an estimated cost of $1,000 per month. The second would involve paying three business locations to open the washrooms, paying for twice-daily cleanings, with a price tag of approximately $3,000 per month for each spot.

The group is looking for the township to cover the costs, or much of it.

Wilbur noted that the municipality pays for public washrooms in two nearby tourist communities, Elora and Stratford.

Whatever the solution, the village needs one quickly, says BIA chair Edward Denyer

“When it’s time to go, it’s time to go – we can’t be turning these people away.”

Coun. Scott McMillan argued a big, blue porta-potty may not be the image St. Jacobs wants to present.

“The porta-potty experience is not going to be great,” Wilbur acknowledged.

But that route would be quick and most cost-effective than the other option.

“We may have to bite the bullet and get through the summer,” he added, noting portable toilets may not be the long-term solution.

Councillors asked staff to look into options, including making use of portable toilets already being rented by the township and estimating costs of having the units cleaned regularly, either by township staff or a contractor. A cost-sharing deal with the BIA is also on the agenda, with a report expected at next week’s council meeting.

“We do need to help our businesses,” said McMillan.

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