A man passes a public toilet on Park Avenue, between Forrest Avenue and High Street, in Portland on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. The city has few such restrooms and none are downtown. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Bangor isn’t alone, it turns out, in its struggles to provide public restrooms. Cities across the country are clamoring for public bathrooms, says Steven Soifer, the president of the American Restroom Association. Few have found sustainable solutions, he said, with costs and maintenance a common reason that public restrooms are shuttered.

That doesn’t mean that officials in Bangor should stop trying to find better ways to provide facilities in the city. They may not have to look too far for promising solutions.

Although they have been in use for less than a year, Portland has installed five new public restrooms in recent months and has plans to put up more.

In downtown Portland, the city has installed metal structures, made by a local fabrication company, that contain a toilet with a holding tank. The structures are more resistant to graffiti, are easy to clean and relatively inexpensive at under $30,000 each. If a location proves problematic, the structure can be easily moved to a new one.

“Public restrooms are a major challenge for municipalities,” Alex Marshall, Portland’s parks director, told the BDN editorial board. Because public restrooms were first located in public parks, these facilities have fallen under Marshall’s purview.

Aside from finding public land for the restrooms in dense downtown areas, funding has been the biggest challenge, Marshall said.

Portland has used federal COVID relief funds for both the deployment of these facilities and their maintenance, which is done by city crews who clean and restock them every day. A contractor pumps out the tanks several times per week. Marshall said vandalism – especially graffiti – remains a problem but that with the frequent visits by city crews, it has been reduced. The Portland units are not locked at night.

With new toilet facilities, public spaces have become cleaner and safer and some pressure has been relieved on local businesses, Marshall said.

With federal COVID relief funds yet to be fully allocated to public projects, restoring public restrooms should be a priority in Bangor as well.

Bangor has few public restrooms and none that are available at night. Public facilities are available at the harbor master building on the city’s waterfront and at City Hall. The Bangor Public Library has become a de facto gathering place for many of the unhoused people in the city. They use the bathrooms there, along with computers and simply seek daytime shelter in the library.

A new transit center, which is under construction, will offer public restrooms when it opens in October. This leaves people in Bangor, whether they are visitors or area residents, housed or unhoused, scrambling to find places to use a bathroom while they are in the city. The library and private businesses have helped fill the gap, but that is not a sustainable solution.

Like other cities, Bangor has struggled to avoid vandalism and substance use in its public restrooms. A portable trailer with bathroom facilities was removed from Pickering Square after only a few months last year after it was misused. An outdoor public bathroom was removed from behind the Hope House for similar reasons.

These are ongoing challenges for sure, but not a reason to abandon efforts to provide more, 24-hour toilet facilities.

Soifer’s group, the American Restroom Association, which we didn’t know existed until doing research for this editorial, has been calling for broader solutions. The association is urging the federal Department of Health and Human Services to take over responsibility for public bathrooms because the lack of such facilities in most locales is a public health issue. The department could then set standards for public restroom availability and set penalties if they are not met. The public facilities could be funded by taxes or a dedicated bond issue.

This additional bureaucracy isn’t likely to speed the construction and operation of more public restrooms in Bangor and other Maine cities.

Instead, local officials should find the will to make public restrooms a priority.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...