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A broken lock makes downtown Kalamazoo's lone public restroom less useful

The inside door of Kalamazoo's single-occupancy stainless steel Portland Loo door and lock is opened from the outside after being locked from the inside.  The lower portion of a figure in blue jeans and blue windbreaker is seen in the crack of the door being opened in the photo.
Leona Larson
WMUK tested the Water Street Portland Loo door lock. From the inside, it seemed to lock. But when WMUK had another person try the door from the outside, it opened easily.

The city, which plans to install two more of the freestanding bathrooms, says fixing the lock is a priority.

Downtown bathrooms can be scarce in Kalamazoo, especially after business hours. But Dustin Sexton says the lock on the single-occupancy Portland Loo across from Arcadia Creek Festival Place has not worked in months.

“Anybody can just rip the door right open on somebody that's using the restroom,” Sexton said.

“That's, um, quite embarrassing.”

So, I checked it out. The door appears to lock, but when someone tries the handle from the outside, it opens.

Sexton says he’s complained.

“I've tried and tried several times. I've been there and I've waited and waited for the public safety workers to clean, to sanitize. And I've said something to them on numerous occasions, and they won't even write it down.”

Kalamazoo Assistant City Manager Rebekah Kik said she was disappointed to hear that Sexton felt his complaint was ignored. She also said the city has fixed the door, but the lock keeps failing. She said she now plans to ask the manufacturer for help in finding a permanent solution.

“Because we want to go with a future Portland Loo, I think it's really important that we go directly with the manufacturer. I can't believe that Kalamazoo would be the only place dealing with this issue.”

The outside of the stainless steel, single-occupancy Water Street Portland Loo.
Leona Larson
The Water Street Portland Loo is across the street from the Arcadia Creek Festival Place.

The city’s preparing to order and install two more Portland Loos, but Kik said fixing the original Loo is her first priority.

One of the two new Loos will be installed by City Hall near Bronson Park this summer. Kik said the city is still scouting downtown locations for the third bathroom.

Kik said Portland Loo, the manufacturer, has developed new design options since the city ordered the original one in 2019, and installed it in 2020. Because of the defective lock, Kik said she’ll press the manufacturer for a better design before ordering the new loos; maybe one that indicates on the outside if the space is occupied.

“This is certainly one of the most private places that we need to have available to our public and we don't want to be installing another one of these just to end up in the same problem,” Kik said.

The Water Street Portland Loo has a number to call for service and cleaning. But after hours, Kik recommends calling 311, the city’s 24-hour operator service.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.