KOMU looks into complaints about lack of baby changing stations

11 months 1 week 1 day ago July 20, 2016 Jul 20, 2016 Wednesday, July 20 2016 Wednesday, July 20, 2016 5:21:00 PM CDT in News
By: Lishan Guo, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA -  Alicia Porubsky, a mother of a 13-month-old daughter from Manhattan, Kansas, was driving through Missouri for a trip with her family when they stopped at Popeye's in Columbia. 

There was no baby changing station in the bathroom, so Porubsky had to improvise.

“It was 90 degrees outside when I was changing my daughter in the back of a car. So I was worried for her and I know it was a hot place to put her, but that’s the only place I had," Porubsky said.

Porubsky said she didn't feel like the restaurant was prepared for the families.

She tweeted about the issue but she didn't get a reply.

KOMU tried to contact Marc Rodriguez, site manager for Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits. He replied with this email:

"Generally speaking, we hire third party construction teams to build our buildings for us, especially in further locations such as Columbia (we are based out of Northwest Arkansas).  Many of the items such as sinks, toilets, and bathroom fixtures (including baby changing stations) are listed as GC provided items.  General Contractors will generally go by local city ordinances and building codes as far as including certain features.  Most of our restaurants do include baby changing stations, and I'm not certain why they were not included in Columbia.  My best assumption would be that the local city ordinance does not require them, therefore the General Contractors elected not to add them to control building costs.  However, we are investigating the cost of adding them ourselves and if our customer base voices a need for them, then we want to honor the needs and request of our customer base."

Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits also has restaurants in the Springfield and Joplin markets. Rodriguez said some include baby stations and some don't. He said the problem goes back to which company was in charge of building the restaurant and what building codes were applied that that jurisdiction.

Shane Creech, building and site development manager for the City of Columbia, said there’re no building code requirement for baby changing stations, and it's up to each individual owner to decide whether to provide them. There are requirements when the owner of the building chooses to provide them to ensure the stations are accessible.

"The building code comes out every three years. The city just adopted the 2015 building code that went into effect October 1, and there’s nothing in those current codes. So in a national level, it stands to reason that’s something that could be considered and could be implemented in the future. I’m not aware of anything though," Creech said.

Creech also said the city always has the ability to regulate something "above and beyond" the actual building code.

"Typically when that’s done, that would apply to major renovations or new buildings. Most new restaurants and most new retail buildings, I tend to see them putting that type of things in, so it’s usually the older stuff that doesn't have it," Creech said.

Andrew Ducharne, general manager at Lakota Café Company and also a father of two children, built a baby changing station in the women's bathroom and put a sign in the men's bathroom saying there is a changing station in the women’s bathroom.

"I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago with that situation, and I took my son to go get changed and I had to walk back to my table and get my wife and she had to go change him. So it’s more of an inconvenience for the parents than anything," Ducharne said.

Porubsky also believed having a baby changing station in the men's bathroom would help parents a lot.

"I get really excited when I see a men’s room that has a changing station, because I think it's a little more forward-thinking. Moms and women are always around to change diapers, men have to do it too," Porubsky said.

Both Ducharne and Porubsky worried about the sanitary issues when there is not a changing station in the restrooms, and they have to change a diaper on a table, the floor or in the back of vehicles.

"You can spend $10,000 on...your kitchen, you can easily spend $250 to make you customers feel comfortable while they come in," Ducharne said.

Other states have already moved forward with legislation requiring baby changing stations.

California legislature approved a bill back in 2014 requiring at least one restroom to have a baby changing station on each floor. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying the issue should be decided in the private sector.

KOMU looked into 30 places including restaurants, public buildings, gas stations, school buildings and other businesses in Columbia. Among those, 15 men's bathrooms and 17 women's bathrooms have changing stations, but most of them are part of large corporations, like Starbucks or Chipotle, or public buildings. Only one out of four unisex restrooms have a changing station.

“I just hope to see them in places that are trying to market themselves as family-friendly. If they have a kids menu, if they offer high chairs and boosters, that’s kind of leading into the direction of being a family restaurant, and wanting to have families. So you need to provide for them," Porubsky said.

Porubsky said she hopes to see a bill passed in states like Missouri and Kansas that's similar to the one that was considered in California.

“Families are a big part of our society's population, so why not take care of families?" Porubsky said.

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