Crawl space

An image taken at the Woonsocket Police Department shows the crawl space behind the cell blocks, where Chief Thomas Oates said the tight quarters are making it difficult to repair six broken toilets.

WOONSOCKET – More than half the cell block toilets at the Woonsocket Police Department are out of order, a problem the department is currently looking at a six-figure bill to resolve, according to Police Chief Thomas Oates.

Oates told members of the City Council on Monday that six out of the 11 toilets in the station’s adult detention area are not working due to water leakage. The stainless steel toilets in the cell blocks, he said, were installed 45 years ago when the building was constructed and are all failing.

“This has been a problem that’s really just come to light over the last six months. As you all know, the building was built in 1975,” he said.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the cell blocks were installed with a 24-inch crawl space that does not offer easy access to an individual toilet’s plumbing. Along with replacing all 11 toilets, the department is looking to install fiberglass plumbing and reconfigure the crawl space to make future repairs easier.

Under the current situation, Oates said, the station cannot handle more than two female prisoners at a time without sending one of them to the juvenile lock-up area. On one occasion last week, he said, officers had to double up individuals in cells because of the lack of space.

In total, he said, the department arrests around 2,000 people every year.

“Not all of them spend a lot of time in our cells, but they do spend time in our cells,” he said. “On any given night, when I come in in the morning, there’s a mix of seven or eight prisoners, both male and female.”

The project is also expected to equip the cells with hot running water, a feature Oates said is already mandatory in Massachusetts.

“At any given point, we could be ordered to comply with those standards, and we’d end up with the rip-out that we’d have to do,” he added.

A request-for-proposals for the project returned two estimates at $155,000 and $159,000. Oates said the department plans to pursue the lower bid with Strategic Solution Team but has not yet identified a funding source. The project, he said, will not fit in the department’s current budget.

Along with the toilets, the WPD is also looking to replace a garage door that has failed. Oates said early estimates for that project indicate it will cost another $15,000 to $20,000.

“The problem is we’re in a 45, close to 50-year-old facility, and those main issues are all starting to catch up with us,” he said.

He told councilors he would work with the city finance director and mayor to come up with a funding source and submit a formal proposal at the next meeting.

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