There was a time when a parent could take their child to the Library Park playground during the day and if he or she needed to go to the bathroom, they used the restrooms just a dozen yards or so away.
And they could use them without fear.
Today if a daytime visitor using Library Park needs to go, they can use the nearby Library Park restrooms — assuming the library is open.
The Library Park restrooms stay locked most of the time except during special events such as the Music and Market on Tuesdays. And City Manager Karen McLaughlin said they will stay locked.
It was McLaughlin nearly two years ago that ordered the restrooms installed in 2004 for $125,000 locked. The reason was simple. The homeless had managed to take over the restrooms often finding a way to lock themselves in at night.
City crews responsible for unlocking restrooms and making sure they were clean were encountering on a daily basis used needles, spent condoms and feces on the floor, urine splatters and trash strewn about.
There were serious concerns about the health of city workers — and the general public — being put at risk from accidental needle sticks.
And it wasn’t just the Library Park where restrooms where the homeless and others were leaving signs of sexual intercourse, drug use and using floors as de facto toilets. Business that sell sheds that are displayed in front of their stores were — after repeatedly exposing workers to clean up the messes — forced to lock the sheds at night or remove them from display.
There also were reports of the restrooms being used for prostitution in addition to being a place for drug transactions and use.
City restroom problems weren’t just limited to Library Park.
The city had hired part-time employees to lock restrooms at Lincoln, Northgate, and Morezone parks each night when park closure hours rolled around. But they were finding it increasingly difficult to keep a worker on board given how the homeless would harass them and often refuse to leave in an effort to spend the night in the restrooms.
That all changed last year when the council backed McLaughlin’s recommendation that a uniformed security firm be hired instead.
“Security is working great,” McLaughlin said. “Having a trained and armed guard to facilitate locking restrooms and working with the Police Department to remove people from closed parks is working much better than a part-time employee.”
McLaughlin noted it has removed the danger and risk factor for employees “to be verbally or physically abused by the homeless and others who frequent the parks after hours.”
Vandalism of park restrooms is still an issue but it is down significantly.
The Lincoln Park restroom appears to get the most use by homeless. A number stop off their in the evening to use it before it is locked. They will sometimes then gather in the lighted group picnic shelter before heading off for the night.