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Loon donations pay for upkeep of bathrooms

Loon banks have been placed in downtown Park Rapids businesses for many years with a note asking for donations for public bathrooms. Over the years, the project has become unfeasible but some businesses have opened up their restrooms to the public. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Some downtown Park Rapids businesses have opened up their bathrooms to the public until some day public bathrooms can be built on Main.

Conversations about having public bathrooms in downtown started at least seven, eight years ago. Loon banks were set out at businesses with a note asking for donations to get public bathrooms in downtown.

Dee Smith, owner of Amish Oak and Americana Furnishings, said eventually it was decided that constructing public bathrooms at that time was infeasible.

"We still collect money. It goes into the Downtown Business Association fund and helps to pay for toilet paper and that sort of thing" for those who open their bathrooms to the public, she said.

The Downtown Business Association hasn't talked about public bathrooms in the last few years.

"Nobody can figure out how to put them in and maintain them," Smith said. "So, that's the problem."

Cynthia Jones, Downtown Business Association co-chair and owner of RiverBend Home Expressions, said public bathrooms have been discussed for a long time in Park Rapids.

"Here's the issue," Jones said. "There's more to it than what people think. To build a heated bathroom costs a lot of money."

The public bathrooms at Depot Park by the tennis courts, for example, are not heated and can only be used from about May through October, she said, which is not ideal.

"The ideal situation would be to have a building in the park that had some retail or something where you could put public bathrooms in the back," Jones said.

Many concerns are raised when it comes to constructing bathrooms downtown.

"There's been talk all the time about having a temporary one but we only use it in the summer," Jones said. "But then, who's going to clean it, who's going to maintain it, is it going to be locked at night so the kids don't stuff toilet paper down the sink?"

Main Avenue reconstruction is slated to begin in 2010 and Jones said the engineers might consider putting in a water/sewer hookup at Pioneer Park downtown in the event bathrooms are constructed in the future. The RDG downtown revitalization study didn't include a recommendation for public bathrooms.

Until public bathrooms are constructed, if ever, downtown businesses have designated retailers that have public restrooms. These businesses are included on a walking map in the Loon Call publication.

"Anywhere you see on that walking map, the little restroom symbol, those people open their restrooms to the public," Jones said. "We're just trying to make it convenient for people and give them a good experience."

Some businesses can't make their restrooms available to the public if they're in the basement or aren't handicapped accessible but those businesses can refer people to the ones that do have restrooms.

"We have enough up and down Main street that we really can take care of the problem for right now," Jones said.

Some businesses are still collecting money using the loon banks. Money goes toward buying toilet paper and paper towels.

"So, we've tried to open up and make it so that people do have a place to go to the bathroom," Jones said. "We don't really even get that much to cover the toilet paper."

Until someone comes up with a way to feasibly construct public bathrooms in downtown, the system seems to be working, Jones said.

"You can't just plop in a public bathroom and certainly can't just put in a portable bathroom because that's not very inviting," she said.