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Council votes to speed up opening of drinking fountains, washrooms in public parks
June 17, 2022

Relief may be on the way for Toronto’s parched park users.

City council voted Thursday to have staff activate drinking fountains, public washrooms and other park amenities earlier in the year, starting next year, with a target date of the end of May.

The city’s current service standards set a goal of opening washrooms by the May long weekend, and turning on fountains by the end of June, a time line councillors criticized as out of touch with reality.

Environment Canada recorded a temperature of 31.4 C at Pearson Airport on Thursday, and humidity made it feel like 34 C.

“This is important, because more than ever, people are using our public spaces, which is a really good thing,” said Coun. Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale), who moved the motion for the end-of-May date.

“But during heat waves, during just a regular play at the park, when kids run up to those fountains, when individuals who are seeking hydration go up and push that button and they get nothing out of it, they’re cursing us, they’re cursing their city, who can’t seem to turn them on fast enough.”

Residents have complained before about park facilities not being accessible until long after warm weather arrives, but the issue took on new dimensions this spring as some councillors framed it as evidence of the city’s unwillingness to fund basic public services.

Deputy City Manager, Paul Johnson, told council that turning on washrooms and fountains isn’t a simple task because most aren’t winterized. They have to be deactivated every winter and recommissioned in the spring.

Johnson said this year staff met the target date for opening the city’s 140 seasonal park washrooms, save for a few that required repair. As of the end of May only about 60 per cent of the city’s 700 fountains were functional, but Johnson said Thursday they are now all online, except for about five per cent, which have mechanical problems.

The budget for the work is about $1.4 million a year, and $3 million for all of the city’s water assets, which include outdoor pools, splash pads, and community gardens.

Johnson said staff could likely open the facilities more quickly, but it would require more funding.

Layton’s motion amended an item put forward by Mayor John Tory that directed staff to speed up activating park amenities, but set no target date and didn’t allocate any additional funding.

The councillor’s motion requested staff report back as part of the 2023 budget process on the funds required to speed up the work. In addition to opening the facilities sooner, it also asked staff to keep them open for longer. The amended item passed unanimously.

Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) told councillors the vote would be ineffective if they didn’t approve funding to accelerate the work come budget time.

“You can’t run a good city on the cheap,” he said.