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UPDATE: Sidney to push ahead with plans for more specialized washroom

Sidney is pushing ahead with plans for downtown public washrooms that also promise accessibility for individuals with more complex disabilities.

Council’s committee-of-the-whole unanimously asked staff to design a “Changing Places” washroom facility in the proposed waterfront location, that would provide more space to use the toilet for people with disabilities.

While staff had identified multiple obstacles to including such a specialized washroom, including concerns about vandalism, councillors cited a number of reasons for the revisions, including the municipality’s moral obligation toward individuals with disabilities.

“I think we are doing the right thing here,” Coun. Scott Garnett said.

“I think we have to adopt a policy of ‘no person gets left behind’ if we are going to have an inclusive community here in Sidney,” Coun. Terri O’Keeffe said during discussions. Building a more inclusive community also creates economic advantages, she added, because it can help Sidney attract new residents and tourists.

Councillors unanimously agreed to add $130,000 to the existing $300,000 budget for the project, whose new design will see the specialized facilities incorporated into a universal washroom. The addition of funds includes $30,000 for specialized equipment. Staff are also looking into dedicated facilities for men and women.

The initial design proposed facilities for men, women and a universal washroom, with staff recommending the municipality continue to look for a suitable location for a Changing Places washroom.

RELATED: Sidney eyes accessibility in plans for public washroom

The staff report discussed Monday (Jan. 17) stated a specialized washroom would account for 45 per cent of the facility’s overall area, on land being leased from a private business. Staff also said expanding the facility beyond the lease area would see it extend into the public realm – the waterfront walkway. This said, staff also told council that a Changing Places washroom could be combined into a universal washroom.

Council also voted to ask staff to bring back options for increasing accessible parking near the bandshell in Beacon Park, not far away from the proposed washroom facility.

The design revision pushes back the completion date of the facility from this June to the spring of 2023. Staff could not pinpoint a precise completion date, citing such factors as the availability of material.

Plans for new washroom facilities for Fourth Street have already encountered delays because a tender for the project failed to generate responses, not once but twice.

Council’s decision to revise plans for new waterfront facilities followed the receipt of two letters critical of the staff recommendation to approve the initial design and continue to look for a separate site to install a Changing Places-style facility.

“I appreciate that staff and (council) are all working hard and are tired,” wrote Charlene Froom, a North Saanich advocate for individuals with disabilities. “So are we all. I am not a (city planner), I don’t profess to have the expertise the staff have in many areas. But I (do) have 38 years of expertise that they don’t have, living in a world as a person disabled by the built environment and attitude of the able-bodied community that keep telling me that my needs just aren’t as important as everyone else’s, that I am not valued in their community.”

Several councillors specifically cited Froom’s input in their justification for changing the design.

The second letter came from David Willows, another local advocate for individuals with disabilities, who pointed among other points to Sidney’s potential legal liability if it failed to provide accessible toilet facilities under the BC Human Rights Code.

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