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Washington Sq. Park Bathroom Hours Cut Amid Concerns of Sex, Drugs

By Andrea Swalec | September 22, 2011 6:26am
East Village resident Roberta Bayley has started a petition asking the Parks Department to restore the Washington Square Park bathrooms' original 7 a.m. opening time.
East Village resident Roberta Bayley has started a petition asking the Parks Department to restore the Washington Square Park bathrooms' original 7 a.m. opening time.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

GREENWICH VILLAGE — The Parks Department has cut short the hours of operation at the Washington Square Park bathrooms amid ongoing community complaints of rampant drug use and sex inside.

The official opening time for the "comfort station" located on the western end of the park was moved two weeks ago to two hours later than usual, at 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. In addition, hours of operation signs have been altered to show the bathrooms close at 5 p.m.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department blamed the change in hours of operation on problems with homeless people bathing themselves inside the restrooms in the morning.

"We work closely with NYPD to ensure the safety of the park, and with the Department of Homeless Services to make sure individuals are availed [of] services that they need," the agency said in a statement.

But Community Board 2 district manager Bob Gormley said residents and Parks Department officials have reported problems with sex and drugs inside the park's bathrooms for at least the past three years.

"I've been told that there's a lot of sexual activity in there and it's been a big problem," Gormley said. "The problem is obvious to anyone who walks in that bathroom."

A Parks Enforcement patrol officer assigned to the Washington Square Park bathroom, who declined to give his name for fear of losing his job, said he walks in on sexual encounters in the park's men's room "every single day."

The Parks Department spokeswoman would not comment on allegations that sex and drugs in the bathroom was a factor in the decision to delay the opening time.

She noted that Washington Square Park's restrooms are slated for demolition during the last phase of renovations of the park, which is expected to begin this fall and will last 15 months.

The two-hour delay in opening the bathrooms came as a shock to longtime park patrons who say the change in hours won't fix the problems, and will only be a punishment to regular park-goers who frequent the park in the morning.

"The bathrooms are filthy and horrible and disgusting, but they're bathrooms, and that's an important thing when you're a woman in her 60s," said East Village resident Roberta Bayley, 66, who launched a petition to restore the bathroom to its former hours. By Wednesday, she had collected more than 100 signatures, she said.

Bayley, a noted rock photographer who shot the cover of The Ramones' first album, said she has used the park's bathroom early in the morning for more then 10 years while walking her dog.

The first she learned of the change was when she tried to use the women's room at 8 a.m. a week ago and found the door locked.

She begged a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer to unlock the door for her. The officer agreed but urged her to "hurry up," she said.

Bayley's friend and fellow veteran rock photographer Leee Black Childers, also 66, said he also uses the park's bathroom in the morning.

"I have to map out my route in the morning for where there are bathrooms," he said.

Childers said he uses the restrooms at Barnes & Noble and the Strand Book Store but feels uncomfortable using coffee shop bathrooms without buying anything.

Bayley said officials are taking out the park's problems on innocent people.

"I don't think the Parks Department should change the rules because they can't control the drug dealers," she said. "The drug dealers will quickly adapt to the new schedule, but my body is not adapting."