Centennial Park washrooms not performing to public satisfaction

By Laura Keil

Out of service, no toilet paper, water all over the floor and toilet, no toilet seat, and the lights shutting off unexpectedly”¦ locals say the new Centennial Park automatic washrooms are not the “automatic” experience they’re hoping for.

Cedar Wilkes, age 9, says the lights often turn off when people are in there and some kids say they’ve gotten stuck. Even on a good day, it takes three minutes for the automatic soap, water and drier to start so a person can wash their hands.

The municipal washrooms officially opened last fall, the $327,860 price tag covered by grants. They promised a year-round heated facility with self-cleaning abilities, but the result unfortunately has been a mixed bag.

Local parent Tiffany Wheeler says the configuration is absolutely not kid-friendly.

“It’s always wet and blasting water all over the toilet. The toilet is always wet and gross with no seat. I’ve been there three times now when tourists used the washroom and complained about how gross it is.”

She’s highly claustrophobic and can’t lock the door due to her restrictions of panic and dread. 

“One day I was trying to change a diaper. I didn’t want to lock the door because just closing it is terrifying enough, and when I didn’t lock it, the bathroom shut the lights off on me and started saying something but I panicked in the blackness.”

She said her young son wouldn’t enter wearing sandals because his feet got wet. As a result he peed behind the bathroom in the grass instead.

“If that toilet at least had a seat”¦. I’d never place my kids’ bare skin on a wet exposed toilet with who knows how much pee and feces particles all over it with all the splashed toilet water.”

While the Village says the washroom automatically sanitizes the toilet seat, the wet residue gives the impression of uncleanliness.

A wet floor made mucky from dirty shoes, and a wet toilet seat, are two of the big complaints of people using the new automatic washrooms at Centennial Park. /LAURA KEIL

Jessie McKirdy says she was happy Valemount was going to have year-round bathrooms for kids to use at the park but she doesn’t think these bathrooms were worth the cost.

“I hate going in there after it’s been sprayed down,” she says. “The floors get filthy if anybody has dirty shoes in there or if toilet paper gets dropped and then gets hosed all over the place Everything is soaked and requires a wipe down. The only thing available is the toilet paper in the hole in the wall”¦ if you are lucky. Twice it’s been empty, probably because everybody is using it the same as I have to.”

She says it’s impossible to put your child down to use the bathroom yourself when the floor is soaking wet. 

“My one year old would love to play in the puddles on the floor so I’ve had to leave without going a couple times for this reason.”

She notes the toilet itself is uncomfortable and the sink is way too long for any child or short person to use comfortably from the front so you have to stand off to the side.

“Having the air dryer right next to the water sensor was an annoying choice. I’ve taken more time than needed because I’ve accidentally triggered the water while hand drying and then had to start the drying process over again.”

The Goat reached out to Urben Blu, the manufacturer of the washrooms for comment. Alain Bolduc, VP Sales for Urben Blu says, some of the problems noted are not solved because the Village has not had time yet to make repairs.

He says it’s impossible for the cleaning cycle to start when somebody is inside of the restroom, but if it’s the case nobody can be locked inside as the door is equipped with a panic bar.

He says if a person doesn’t lock the door properly, the light can turn off to save energy. The Goat tested not locking the door, and the light went out within 5-10 seconds.

When asked about the operational issues of the washrooms, CAO Eric Depenau says he was not aware of any formal complaints about the services at Centennial Park, and appreciated having issues brought to their attention.

“We would be eager to dispatch staff to look at the issue(s).”

He also said he personally went to the park to test whether he could trigger the washroom to lock him inside, and couldn’t find a way to do so. 

“It is a push bar mechanism. We manually started the cleaning function and then used keys to enter the room to verify.”

He says the cleaning cycle is connected to the door mechanism and a motion sensor. He did note, however, that if one kid entered immediately after another, and then stayed still for a long time to trick the motion sensor, the washroom might assume it was empty and begin a cleaning cycle if one was due. However, the washroom would never be locked from the inside.

When asked if the automated nature of the washroom can be shut off, Depenau says the options are highly customizable.

“The washrooms are fully automated and programmable for operating hours, cleaning cycles, occupancy time, heating and lighting and can be controlled and monitored remotely on a computer or mobile device,” he says. “In short, the automated functions can be controlled, but not shut off.”

Currently, he says the system is set to clean the toilet after each use, this includes a blow dryer for the “seat.”

“Locally we are not able to alter this function but staff are working with the manufacturer on additional options through the software.” 

Normally, a full cleaning occurs after 10 or 15 uses for 90 seconds, which would include the floor. He says the Village has had this setting restricted to a few times throughout the day, and has now been altered to run only at night.

Depenau says the manufacturer offers a 3-year full warranty (parts and labour) and 10 years on the structure of the building. The Village also opted for one year of software warranty and ongoing technical support line remains available from the manufacturer, Urben Blu.

He says staff shortages and a few incidents of vandalism have caused service interruptions. 

“Staff continue to work on tuning the system to produce the best possible result and with the aim of having both units open.”