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Portable loo takes a seat in Old Town

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Though originally intended for Downtown, the city of Albuquerque recently installed a public restroom stall purchased by City Councilor Isaac Benton in an Old Town parking lot. Maria Griego, a city parking supervisor, center, shows Wendy Vigil, left, and A.J. Jex, right, how they will maintain and lock up the building at night. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The “Portland Loo” has found a home in Albuquerque, even if officials had to settle for their No. 2 location choice.

City Councilor Isaac Benton bought the steel standalone bathroom stall more than two years ago with the goal of addressing Downtown’s public defecation situation. But Benton said the city could not get “buy in” from the Downtown community for a specific placement.

Old Town, however, expressed interest. The city installed what it is now calling the “Old Town Loo” in the parking lot at San Felipe and Central NW.

It opened for business Wednesday morning.

“Old Town welcomed it, and really wanted a facility in that area of Old Town,” said Benton, whose district encompasses both Downtown and Old Town. “It will serve a purpose – it will serve a good purpose – but, unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything for Downtown.”

David Silverman, president of the DowntownABQ MainStreet board, said community and city representatives repeatedly walked around Downtown looking for a suitable spot for the public toilet, but there was no consensus about where it should go. He said people worried about the potential “nefarious activity” the toilet could bring if it was near their property.

“Everybody realized we wanted it and needed it, but when it came down to choosing a location for it, nobody wanted it near them,” Silverman said.

Danny Whatley, executive director for The Rock at NoonDay homeless shelter, said the Old Town location seems much more likely to benefit tourists than those who are homeless and who congregate in Downtown because that’s where most of the services are.

He said he understands the challenges of locating public toilets, saying portable restrooms previously placed in Coronado Park had provided cover for prostitution and drug abuse.

“Very seldom was it used legitimately for its original purpose,” he said.

But the need for such facilities Downtown is chronic and will require the right formula to work, which Whatley said means having a convenient site, potable water and sufficient security, meaning a regular human presence to keep it clean and safe.

“I don’t see any other way it could work,” Whatley said.

Benton used $20,000 from his councilor set-aside money to buy the toilet used from the city of San Diego. San Diego had removed the stall amid increased police calls to the area and higher-than-expected maintenance costs, according to media reports, though it kept a second Portland Loo in another part of the city in operation.

The toilet was developed more than a decade ago in partnership with the city of Portland. It was designed “with the primary intent to prevent problems that are commonly experienced with public toilets, such as crime, vandalism and deterioration,” according to portlandloo.com. The hand-washing station is on the exterior, in part to keep people from washing their body or clothing inside, and there are open slats at the top and bottom “which allows law enforcement or security personnel to see and hear how many people are inside,” while still providing user privacy, according to the website.

“It is really built for an urban environment,” Benton said, noting the commode’s steel fabrication. “(It’s) fairly indestructible.”

The project’s total cost was $135,000, including the installation and purchase price.

While open during the day and for special events, Benton said the city will lock the stall at night.

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Kadie Cummings and Celia Lopez wash their hands at the hand washing station on the side of The Portland Loo in Old Town. Wednesday, Aug. 05, 2020. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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