Every now and then the local news sneaks in a headline to showcase our local taxes and fees at work. A swanky new visitor center is about to open on the top of nearby Pikes Peak (14,115′) at a cost of $66M. A 250-ft. pedestrian bridge ($18.7M) spans gracefully over downtown railroad tracks, connecting a public park to our new U.S. Olympic museum complex. Increased traffic between Colorado Springs and Denver demands eighteen miles of a new interstate toll lane ($350M).
These efforts make sense and I’m happy to write the check, especially with the potential for revenue in return. But another project almost escaped my news feed and Mr. Mayor, I respectfully request a refund. We now have a fully-accessible fully-automated self-cleaning public toilet in a small park on the west side of town. Cost: $415,000. That’s a lot of loot for a little lavatory, no?
On the surface our golden throne sounds good enough to try out. It’s a touchless experience once you “ring the doorbell”. The restroom door opens/closes automatically with a sanitary-sounding hiss. Circulating air and classical music provide the white noise you need to mask unpleasant sounds. A bathroom “host” politely pipes in over the loudspeaker to let you know you have ten minutes to do your thing. After that – reason in itself to just go and watch from a distance – all doors open whether or not you’re buttoned up. Talk about getting caught with your pants down.
Our city’s posh powder room comes from Exeloo (great name), an Australian company expanding its footprint into North America. Besides the fancy features mentioned above Exeloo toilets are self-cleaning, which means they spray down and disinfect their surfaces from wall-mounted nozzles every thirty uses or so. Makes me think the kitchens of Chinese restaurants could use the same treatment.
Learning more about Exeloo didn’t make me feel better about my tax dollars. That’s because our city purchased the fanciest model on the website. Exeloo offers six different “loos”, with names like Jupiter, Saturn, and Orbit. (Why – because going to the bathroom should be an out-of-this-world experience?) Our city chose the model simply named “Fully Accessible”. It looks at least twice as big as any of the others.
Let me contrast our wet-n-wild washroom with a more modest facility. Just off the coast at Torrey Pines in North San Diego County you’ll find a nondescript public restroom sandwiched between the beach and the parking lot. It has no doors. It has no music. It’s made entirely of cinderblocks and concrete. A flush requires an “old-fashioned” pull of the handle, emitting just enough water to clear the bowl. The sinks offer just a trickle of water to rinse your hands. The mirrors aren’t mirrors at all, but big polished metal panels with just enough of a reflection. This restroom is bombproof.
Which brings me to my point. Why does my town need a bathroom good enough for a visit from Queen Elizabeth when cinderblock and concrete will do just as well? The Torrey Pines toilet probably cost $4,000, not $400,000. The next headline I’ll be reading is how a homeless person took up residence in our well-to-do water closet and now our tax dollars have to fund a full-time attendant as well.
The first time I experienced a first-class public flush was in Boston Common. Smack dab in the middle of the grass expanse and softball diamonds we found a restroom similar to an Exeloo, only more like a double-wide RV. It was a welcome sight after hours exploring the city on foot. An attendant sat quietly on a nearby park bench, keeping an eye on things. And the cherry on top of this sanitation sundae: the facility was sponsored by a non-profit called Friends of the Public Garden. Not a tax dollar to be spent.
Since we can’t go out to dinner or see a concert or even go to church this Christmas, I think I’ll take the family to see our sparkling Exeloo public restroom instead. Maybe they’ve scented the circulating air to smell like Christmas cookies or pine trees. Maybe they’ve switched out the classical music for holiday favorites. Hopefully they’ve dressed up the attendant to look like Santa. It’s the least they can do for my tax dollars.
Some content sourced from the 11/6/2020 Springs Magazine article, “At Least We Have a $300K Bathroom”.