A 'Portland Loo' could be coming to downtown Elgin

  • The Elgin City Council this summer will consider installing a public toilet somewhere downtown, possibly along the Fox River Trail north of the Hemmens Cultural Center. Pictured is The Portland Loo, an option endorsed by city staff members.

    The Elgin City Council this summer will consider installing a public toilet somewhere downtown, possibly along the Fox River Trail north of the Hemmens Cultural Center. Pictured is The Portland Loo, an option endorsed by city staff members. COURTESY OF THE PORTLAND LOO

  • This is an inside view of The Portland Loo, which the city of Elgin might install downtown.

    This is an inside view of The Portland Loo, which the city of Elgin might install downtown. COURTESY OF THE PORTLAND LOO

 
 
Updated 5/10/2017 7:09 AM

An idea to install a toilet for the homeless in downtown Elgin has evolved into the concept of a public restroom useful to everyone, including walkers and bikers along the Fox River Trail.

City staff members are keen on The Portland Loo, a stainless steel, flushable toilet used by several cities across the country and designed to address concerns about cleanliness and public safety, senior management analyst Laura Valdez-Wilson said. That concept and other options will be presented to the city council sometime this summer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A discussion last fall by the city council about public urination and defecation by homeless people led Mayor David Kaptain to propose the idea of a public toilet.

City officials are looking at the issue "more holistically" as a public restroom for everyone, not just the homeless, Valdez-Wilson said. A possible location is north of the Hemmens Cultural Center, she said.

The Portland Loo is named after Portland, Oregon, where public safety officials collaborated in designing the toilet built by Madden Fabrication. It has louvered panels that allow outsiders to assess if someone is in danger but also ensure privacy. It can fit a bike or stroller, pipes are heated in winter, and the hand-washing station is outside.

The facility would cost $90,000 plus an estimated $25,000 for installation. It would be funded by the Central Area Tax Increment Financing District, in which tax money above a certain level going to local governments is funneled into the area instead. Council members will weigh the expense against other possible projects in the downtown area, Valdez-Wilson said.

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Cincinnati, Ohio, has had a Portland Loo for nearly two years, said Steven Schuckman, the city's parks superintendent for planning, design and facilities. "The design nicely fit the aesthetic of the park and could be ordered, shipped and erected relatively quickly," he said.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has had one since February 2016 and is installing another this summer, said Katherine Watkins, city engineer. "It has been easy to maintain and worked well," she said.

Public restrooms in general have a bad reputation, but The Portland Loo seeks to change that, company representative Evan Madden said.

"Often they are placed in back alleyways and far away from the main attractions, and that's a way that can foster unwanted behavior like crime," he said. "We want them to be the center of attention, where all ears and eyes can be on them."

The city of San Diego had a problem with a location that ended up attracting a homeless encampment, but proper planning and monitoring can address that, Madden said.

Elgin has an enclosed public restroom on the north side of Festival Park that is open when the nearby splash pad is in season.

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