Durham News

Durham park bathrooms in disrepair

A vandalized sink in a Durham park restroom.
A vandalized sink in a Durham park restroom. City of Durham

A city review of Durham’s parks and trails has paid particular attention to toilets.

As phrased in a parks department report, “Going Public” ( bit.ly/1jVOXUi), “An ethic of ‘taking care’ of our restrooms need will need to be strongly established.”

Complaints from an extensive public-opinion survey for the Parks and Recreation Department’s new master plan prompted a restroom survey. For example:

•  “Most restrooms ... do not have toilet tissue. ... In those that do have tissue, it is often completely soiled.”

•  “If they had been cleaning them ... the numbers of spiders and spider webs, and bugs would not have been present.”

•  “Parents do not even want to take their children to these bathrooms. ... Every year the restrooms are in disrepair from neglect, again this is unacceptable.”

Vandalism is a particular problem, which “Going Public” photos copiously illustrate. Of the 37 plumbed restrooms in Durham parks, a parks staff survey found 15 suffering from “frequent vandalism” (meaning they are to be closed for vandalism repair more than once during the April-November “season” when parks’ water is turned on).

Restrooms at four parks – East End, Lakeview, Lyon Park and Sherwood – are only opened for special events because they have been vandalized so often and so badly.

“Going In Public” cites several examples of what maintenance personnel have to deal with:

•  A restroom building set on fire;

•  Porcelain sinks torn down and broken;

•  Copper pipe stolen;

•  “Toilets stopped up with paper and fecal material” in a restroom that was closed and locked;

•  Three times in 2013, one restroom was opened for use and closed within 48 hours after vandals “rendered it dysfunctional.”

The report estimates that vandalism costs Durham taxpayers about $104,000 a year. And while are scheduled for cleaning once to five times a week, depending on use, “a restroom can be cleaned at 8:00 a.m. and filthy by 9:00 a.m.”

Eight restrooms are in floodplains, such as those at Forest Hills, Northgate and Walltown, and those are old and show the effects of heavy use. There is little the city can do to improve or replace them, though, due to water-quality and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations, and there is little room in the parks outside the floodplains to put new restrooms.

“Going Public” does make recommendations, including graffiti-resistant paint, replacing glass mirrors and porcelain fixtures with stainless steel, and replacing copper pipes with PVC; where space allows, replacing floodplain restrooms with new, prefabricated (and somewhat vandal-resistant) restrooms outside the floodplain.”

The report concludes: “The problems are clear and only the desired work and available funding remain to be decided.”