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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

City Relief: Open the Restrooms At Tracy Park!

Portsmouth, Ohio
My Hometown

We have a lovely park in my town utilized by scores of people every day. With its beautiful trees, its stately memorials, its well-constructed stage, and its people friendly features such as a modern playground, comfortable benches, and useful walking paths, Tracy Park is simply one of the best blocks within the city limits. It is the town green for the city of Portsmouth.

I love Tracy Park. I love that it sits in the middle of my town as an open refuge for those seeking a quiet moment, a shaded place to consume a meal, a fun place to play (featuring a"riverboat" playground built by the Portsmouth Kiwanis Club), and a small but useful area to exercise.

A natural gem in an area full of empty businesses and urban decline, the park attracts many weekend gatherings. On Saturdays and Sundays, people meet there for events sponsored by non-profit organizations, musical productions, rallies, and other forms of family entertainment.

The City of Portsmouth offers the use of the park to civic organizations at a very reasonable price. Tracy Park with its electricity, its stage, and all its other amenities is available to citizens on a first come-first serve basis. The organization to which I belong, the Scioto Drug Abuse Action Team, has helped with many events at Tracy such as SOLACE candlelight ceremonies and National Day of Prayer observances. The facilities are outstanding.

I have one concern about Tracy Park. I think someone needs to address the subject of the restrooms there. As with any argument, my position will draw considerable opposition. I am fully aware of some problems that will inevitable result from a change in policy; however, this can be another simple measure, easily taken, that may benefit the common good.

At this time, the public restrooms in the park are locked and unusable during park hours. Promoters of paid special events do receive a restroom key, but the restroom is not open to the public for common use.

With no facilities available to the many men, women, and children who use the park, these people constantly wander to Krogers, Stakers and other nearby businesses looking for relief. Many of these businesses do not have public restrooms, so, naturally, confrontations occur between employees and people using the park. This causes undue problems for retailers.

I think the public restrooms in Tracy Park should be open to the public during designated hours.

OK, let's get all of the cons out of the way first.

(1) Vandalism

I am fully aware of the vandalism that has occurred in the park, particularly the destruction of features of the memorials. I hate vandalism and view it as senseless crime that begs for retribution.
I am certain the city worries about vandalism to the nice restroom facilities at Tracy. The restrooms are locked to prevent damage to these facilities.

(2) Supervision

Who would unlock, maintain, and lock the restrooms after hours? I know the city departments have a "full plate" of responsibilities with very little money to accomplish their work. A city worker would have to be responsible for maintaining the "open" restrooms. This work would be somewhat taxing.

(3) Cost of Operation

Considering the cost of keeping sanitary conditions and items like toilet paper and soap on hand in the restrooms, the city does not want to take on any additional expenses at Tracy Park. Some irresponsible people will surely waste some supplies and dirty the restrooms.

(4) The Bottom Line

Many folks feel too many "undesirables" people Tracy Park. They feel these miscreants cannot be trusted because they are prostitutes, drug addicts, and lowlifes. They would surely spoil the restroom privileges of the responsible citizens by using the restrooms to their advantage. "Bad" people simply do not need a place, paid for by the taxpayers, to relieve themselves.

I will answer these arguments.

(1) How much is vandalism at Tracy Park costing the taxpayers? Does anyone know? Agreed, any cost is too much when crime is involved. Yet, let's be reasonable about the potential loss. It has been my experience that areas decently maintained usually receive a high degree of mutual respect from the public. Vandalism occurs most often at night.

A vandal's greatest threats are the three natural enemies of crime: noise, time, and visibility. With restrooms open only during hours of park operations, the threat of crime decreases. With its proximity to Krogers, Stakers, and several other highly used businesses, the threat decreases even more. Perhaps city law enforcement could help just a few minutes a day with a "presence." They could park in one of the spaces provided there or do a drive-by.

(2) Supervision of the restrooms would not require a full-time commitment by a city employee. The time required to open and close the facilities would be minimal. A trusted person, possibly even a Shawnee student, could handle such responsibilities -- a business or a fine arts major, perhaps? It might be possible to help advance the education of a local citizen with a very small investment in community relations.

(3) Even considering necessary cleaning, the time and money commitment for opening and operating the restrooms would not be excessive. Most park users are considerate, well-behaved people who simply enjoy spending time there. Consider the children who play in Tracy. Opening the restrooms would accommodate parents with small children and with babies. I feel the city should provide facilities for such necessities as changing diapers and cleaning up unexpected "messes" we all know kids make. And, of course, all of us find ourselves in need of restrooms during extended outings.

(4) The public should have restroom facilities as a matter of courtesy. To have the facilities available but locked is pretty offensive. This denial of privileges creates distrust and ill will. Again, please understand that most restrooms in private businesses are closed to the public. I see no problem with that in a business. But, by locking the restroom, the city is essentially saying to its good citizens and to its tourist guests "Welcome to Tracy Park, one of the finest areas we offer downtown, but we DON'T TRUST YOU in the restroom facilities we built for your convenience." Isn't that pretty silly?

I remember some cases of people actually defecating and urinating in public at the park. If my memory serves me well, the fire department actually had to use water hoses to clean the grounds after some of these unsanitary situations that happened not too long ago. Open restrooms would surely have prevented these nasty acts. I'm sure some people still "go to the bathroom" in the natural setting. They continue to create a health hazard.

Reportedly, the Tracy restrooms were even locked during the 2012 TOSRV biking event held there. It is my understanding that some people were allowed to use the restrooms by a person in charge of a key on an individual "unlock-lock back" basis . Preferential? Didn't most bikers have to use the portable "potties" then? Is this the image we should present in a town in desperate need of a positive public image? Gosh, I can still remember our old motto: "Portsmouth -- where Southern hospitality begins." Time changes nearly everything, I guess.

The last question under "Bottom Line" is simply this: Should Krogers continue to be the business with a restroom that accommodates all the people using Tracy Park? I see no reason to put this burden on Krogers, especially when people may not be purchasing items in their store. I give kudos to Krogers for their generosity, but considering the mud and dirt (and maybe... well, you figure it out) that people naturally accumulate in the park, does Krogers (or you) really want shoppers in direct contact with park people when restrooms already exist on the premises of Tracy? I know I don't.

Let's kick the stigma of those in Tracy as hookers, abusers, and losers. Considering compromises that reduce risks, the city should open the restrooms at Tracy Park. To do so would be healthy, sanitary public policy. I think we should take pride in the park, offer all people its amenities for proper use, and maintain its beautiful appearance.

Link to Tracy Park Restrooms

"Due to high volume of people visiting Tracy Park in Portsmouth, OH; The City of Portsmouth
contracted Howerton Engineering & Surveying’s professional services to provide site design fora restroom to serve the park. Then the utilities to serve it along with a new concrete sidewalk to access it needed to be designed. Sewer, water, and electric lines were ran from the new restroom
and tied into the existing city lines. The scope of the project consisted of mapping out Tracy Park’s existing features: trees, lights, sidewalks, stage, other concrete features, and any other features." Are we getting our money's worth?

Kiwanis Community Playground - Tracy Park

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