Dr. Joseph Reed
Dr. Joseph Reed

Community member advocates for installation of publicly accessible bathrooms in the old Chase bank drive-thru lot

BUCKHANNON – Do you think downtown Buckhannon needs more public bathrooms?

Create Buckhannon member, retired health care provider and community volunteer Dr. Joseph Reed does, and last week he took his thoughts on the matter to the city’s Consolidated Public Works Board.

Reed attended the May 27 CPWB meeting to advocate for the installation of more public bathrooms, specifically in the former Chase Bank lot on Madison Street near Jawbone Park that the city purchased from Citizens Bank in March 2020.

Although city officials have yet to determine what the property will be utilized for – more parking, additional green space, renovation of the existing structure, outdoor seating and space for public art have all been suggested – a special city Planning Commission is slated for 7 p.m. on June 15 to discuss potential uses for the 1.03-acre lot.

Reed suggested the area be utilized to install better restroom facilities.

“We were talking about Jawbone Park, the additional property and what to do with the [former bank drive-thru] building. That area does not have adequate restroom facilities for whoever might use that place,” Reed said. “I have not used the bathroom at Jawbone, so I don’t know the exact details, but I do know that I hear complaints that it’s not adequate and it’s not open all the time, so I’m suggesting that in the process of redesigning the lot, there is a need to prepare restrooms for large gatherings of people.”

Reed said one such large gathering will take place in 2023, when hundreds of people participating in the World Association of Marching Show Bands Championships will descend on Buckhannon that July. Reed, however, said he feels there’s a need for more bathrooms generally.

“What other areas in our city, in our immediate area, have the same kind of problem? Jawbone, first of all, and then is there adequate access [there] on Main Street? We think about the restaurants, but do they welcome all people coming in? What about city and county parks and where else in the area are their needs for restroom facilities? We’re trying to make our area attractive to visitors, so we need to have adequate restrooms for that,” Reed said.

Reed acknowledged that implementing more public bathrooms would cost money.

“They do need to be cleaned and that comes with some cost – no question – and then there’s the complaint, ‘well, people use drugs in the restrooms,’ and I say, ‘it’s better there than on the street,’” Reed said. “Some suggest that during special [events] like Strawberry Festival, the solution is a Porta John, and I say that’s where you go when you can’t find something better, and it’s not a happy situation for trying to get more and more things to Jawbone Park.”

“Festival Fridays is there every week, and I think that we need to look at more permanent solutions,” Reed added.

Board member and city councilman CJ Rylands, who is the president of Create Buckhannon, said discussion regarding more bathrooms has come up during weekly Create Buckhannon meetings.

“I’ve expressed to him what I’ve heard the city’s position to be, and they represent a lot of the problems that this board has dealt with such as vandalism, illicit use [of controlled substances], trashing it, etc.,” Rylands said. “I believe we were looking for fewer bathrooms, not more, but I also picked up from most people and myself included, that going somewhere and not having access to restrooms also dissuades you from participating, so I don’t have any answers.”

City of Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold suggested other temporary facilities, rather than installing another permanent public bathroom.

“The solution is a restroom trailer,” Arnold suggested. “You can get restroom trailers that can be parked for festival events and pulled when there’s no festival events, but for a 24/7 bathroom, you need to have a 24/7 attendant,” Arnold said. “Because if not, you have the walk trail for instance, and we have someone that takes up residency in the restrooms because it is warm and that would be fine if they were not vandalized.”

He said vandalism is a constant problem the city wrestles with.

“We have to go in there and totally close the facility, remodel it after one knucklehead goes in and destroys everything,” Arnold said. “That’s the problem we have with public restrooms all the time. Even in our park facilities, we had two field trips Monday at our park on Park Street and from those field trips, someone tore one of the stall doors completely off of the hinges.”

Arnold said they have a park attendant, but the restrooms still get vandalized.

“If you’re going to have restrooms, there’s a cost associated with it and that is the personnel,” he said. “It’s a full-time job for a bunch of restrooms.”

Discussions about how to use the former bank drive-thru lot will continue at the June 15 special meeting of Planning Commission. It’s at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 70 E. Main St., and is open to the public.

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