Restrooms for splashers, shoppers and more

The City of Albert Lea is asking voters on April 9 to approve up to $9.8 million in funding to improve rec facilities, including building restrooms near the Splash Pad at 107 Fountain St.

One idea for the restroom building is to use a model similar to the pavilion at Pioneer Park. Restrooms would be on one side, and instead of an open pavilion like at Pioneer Park, enclosed storage would be on the other side. The estimated cost is $250,000.

Built in 2017 at a cost of $159,000 and funded mostly with donations, the Splash Pad is open in the summer from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting. There is no admission fee. The Splash Pad is popular with children and their caregivers.

The entire downtown is growing in popularity, with 106,000 total visitors in 2023.

Albert Lea’s historic downtown is hopping with 50-plus events a year in addition to the twice-weekly Farmers Market.

On Thursday evenings in the summer, people arrive by foot, bike, scooter, car and even boat to take in the free concert series at Fountain Lake Park at the end of North Broadway.

On the second Wednesday of June, July and August, the downtown portion of Broadway is closed for the Wind Down Wednesday festival with variety of food, drink and vendors.

More than 14,000 people line the route of the July 3 parade, including part of downtown, with more than 18,000 watching July Fourth fireworks over Fountain Lake.

The Blue Zones Walkway around the lake is busy with people of all ages walking, running, biking and rolling.

splash pad

Since opening in 2017, the Splash Pad is a free and popular amenity downtown.

The proposed location for the restrooms near the Splash Pad would be along Washington Avenue.

Yet there are no public restrooms except portable toilets. While the “blue boxes” fill a need, they certainly do not make the best impression on visitors or represent the best work that the Albert Lea community can do.

When the Splash Pad was first proposed, the city decided against adding public restrooms to the amenity. Vandalism was one reason for not investing in public restrooms.

Since then, city government has changed in administrators, city councilors and its thinking about downtown restrooms.

Technology has also changed.

The Albert Lea Police Department already monitors the North Broadway parking lot via security cameras. The city could add more exterior cameras if needed for the restroom building. Police would continue regular patrols of the area.

In addition, the city is trying programmable locks for public restrooms. “Programmable” means that city staff can set the times that doors automatically lock and unlock. That also means the restrooms can be locked overnight without police officers or parks department staff having to do so in person.

The city is trying a new lock system on a public restroom at Lakeview Park. Before the lock was installed in December, the restroom was vandalized three times in 2023. Since locking it overnight, no vandalism has occurred.

While expensive and requiring internet, these programmable locks would be a good investment for downtown restrooms.

In addition to restrooms, the building would likely include storage, water service and electricity for the Farmers Market as part of the market’s contract with the city for using the North Broadway parking lot.

If proceeding with the restrooms, then the city would seek input on the exact location of the building, its size and number of bathroom stalls, whether to keep it open during the winter, and other decisions.

But the first decision – whether to fund it – is up to voters.