Stop the Complaints and Vandalism Associated With Park Restrooms

Are you plagued by graffiti, tip-overs and even units set on fire? Do neighbors think your units are ugly? Here are some workarounds to keep your municipal customers happy.

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Boat landings, beaches and remote public recreational sites are areas where portable sanitation needs are critical, yet placing restrooms in these areas can be difficult for PROs in many ways. Contractors want to provide a necessary service to users at these locations, and municipal customers are typically reliable payers and often have a frequent need for more restrooms in other spots. However, too many times it’s not worth the effort.

Like many features in public settings, restrooms are an easy target for vandals who seem attracted to graffiti-spray, tip over or burn down units over and over again. And in situations where units are placed in parks surrounded by upscale homes, especially near beachfront property, the restrooms are viewed as unwelcome guests. It seems that almost the last thing homeowners in these wealthy neighborhoods want to see when they peer out their windows is a portable restroom, and they’re not afraid to tell you about it.

IN THE NEWS

Just last week alone, I read two news accounts of indignant homeowners issuing a tirade of threats when a restroom was placed in their line of sight. They call them unsightly and say a portable restroom is hurting their property values or causing a dangerous element to loiter near their homes. Why, you’d think they’d sooner see a park visitor relieve themselves in the bushes than use a portable restroom.

In another recent news story out of central Michigan, a town board debated putting a restroom at a busy boat landing. All parties agreed portable sanitation was needed, but the idea was dismissed for fear that vandals would destroy the restroom or tip it over and have the contents roll down a hill into the waterway, causing a pollution concern. The town leaders were in a quandary: on one hand, they could provide a needed service, and on the other hand, they were certain doing so would cause problems.

It’s a challenge for PROs to deal with servicing restrooms in these hot spots of controversy. If they aren’t worried about stirring up bad publicity from critics, they may be spending too much time cleaning up tip-overs, scrubbing off graffiti or replacing damaged units.

There’s no way you and I could figure out why vandals are so attracted to portable restrooms. We don’t like it, but it’s undeniable that a certain segment of the population — wielding markers, lighters, knives or able bodies that can push over a 200-pound plastic box — want to create mayhem involving the products provided by our industry.

And what about the “not in my backyard” issue? At least for me, the idea of getting wrapped around the axle because there is a portable restroom in your neighborhood surpasses all understanding. First of all, life is too short to sweat the little things. If the restroom parked at the beach is the biggest thing you have to worry about, congratulations! Your life is near perfect. Second, I can think of a lot worse things to look at than a well-maintained portable restroom. This is a necessary, functional product which the appearance of has been much improved over the years.

FIX WHAT YOU CAN

You’re in the business of serving the needs of your customers and that includes these challenging restroom placements. So, it’s time to remember the Serenity Prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that says, in part, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can.”

In that spirit, are there things we can do to help communities address these difficult portable sanitation situations? I think so, and I’ll share a few ideas:

Involve the neighborhood

When a government wants to place a restroom at a beach or remote park location, recommend the decision-makers talk to the nearest neighbors. Have them explain the need for the restroom and seek their input when possible, perhaps about the placement of the unit or the color of the unit. Let neighbors know the restroom will be regularly maintained and monitored by law enforcement. Get out in front of any complaints, and have the neighbors provide added eyes and ears for looking out for vandals.

Let there be light

Suggest to the municipality that the unit be placed under an existing light or that lighting be added to deter vandalism. If not a streetlight that is on from dusk to dawn, at least a motion-sensing light. You can also add door-activated solar lights inside the unit, which will not only serve the users better, but could also deter vandalism.

Build a protective enclosure

Some municipalities consider building permanent bathroom facilities rather than use a portable restroom. However, that’s a costly option requiring water and sewer services as well as expensive fixtures that can also be damaged by vandals. A low-cost alternative is to build a walled or fenced enclosure with a roof that can hold a portable restroom or two. The enclosure can be locked during off-hours by park staff to prevent vandalism.

Screen the unit

To reduce the potential for neighbor complaints, screen portable restrooms with trees or evergreen shrubs. Block sightlines with landscaping before the restroom is delivered. Upright cedars or conifers can be planted at a small expense. The same goes for fencing, and this will also discourage tip-overs.

Post penalties for vandalism

It’s unlikely that vandals will stop and read the fine print before they tag a restroom, but posting the penalties for bad behavior could be a deterrent. The municipality can establish a specific fine for damaging restrooms or park property and spell that out on signage displayed near or on the restrooms. You can also post an emergency number for visitors to call if they see vandals or find a damaged restroom. Quick response to vandalism complaints will improve the relationship with neighbors.

Add security cameras

Security cameras and even hunter trail cameras are getting better and cheaper all the time. A variety of cameras can be installed at a troublesome site to catch vandals in the act. The municipal customer or the local police can set up and monitor the cameras. Or, perhaps you can offer job site security cameras as an added service, particularly to your construction-related customers.

OFFER YOUR SOLUTIONS

Have you tried these or other tactics to stem the tide of vandalism in park units? What have you done to tamp down complaints from neighbors who don’t want to look at your units at parks or residential construction sites? Send your tips and tricks to me at editor@promonthly.com. I’ll share them with readers in a future issue. 



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