changing times

Pleas for Relief: Urgent Need for Diaper Stations in Bronx County Building

The Bronx County Building is not very baby friendly.
The Bronx County Building is not very baby friendly. Photo: Ese Olumhense/THE CITY

The 85-year-old Bronx County Building is nine floors, over 555,000 square feet and home to the Bronx Supreme Court, Housing Court, the county bar association, a major passport office as well as census and naturalization records.

But there’s not one diaper-changing station — despite recently enacted city, state and federal laws that would require them in newer buildings.

For scores of parents who come through 851 Grand Concourse with pre-potty trained tots in tow, that stinks.

“Thousands of people come here every single day for all kinds of services,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., whose office is on the third floor of the building.

“No parent should be changing their child on a wooden bench, on the floor of a bathroom, on top of a sink.”

In an April 8 letter to Lisette Camilo, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Thomas Fariello, acting commissioner of the Department of Buildings, Diaz asks for the “immediate installation” of changing stations.

“Currently, the hundreds of mothers and fathers who, on a daily basis, travel to and handle business within The Bronx County Building have no place in which to change their child’s diaper,” Diaz wrote.

Cynthia Edwards, in housing court on Tuesday with her baby granddaughter for a hearing on a NYCHA rent dispute, said the lack of changing stations complicated otherwise routine errands, especially if there is a long wait.

“I hope she doesn’t crack right now,” Edwards said. Without a changing table, she’d have to change the 1-year-old on one of the benches in the ground-floor lobby area of the building.

A bathroom in the Bronx County Building.
A bathroom in the Bronx County Building. Photo: Ese Olumhense/THE CITY

“They do need one,” agreed Edwards’ neighbor and friend, Vernice Jenkins. “Kids blow their diapers up while people are just sitting here, and they have to change them right here, in front of everyone.”

“Who wants to sit here and smell — excuse my language — a sh–ty diaper?” Jenkins added.

After inquiries from THE CITY, city officials in charge of court buildings said they received Diaz’ request and were working with the state Office of Court Administration to install changing stations.

“Making sure public buildings are clean, accessible, and convenient for the people of New York City to use is a priority for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services,” DCAS spokesperson Jackey Gold said in a statement. “We received Borough President Ruben Diaz’s request to install diaper changing stations in the building at 851 Grand Concourse. We are working with the State Office of Court Administration to get the stations installed in a timely fashion.”

DCAS declined to say how many stations would be installed, or when work would begin.

But state officials said 20 changing tables were on order. They will be installed at 851 Grand Concourse this summer, an OCA spokesperson told THE CITY in an email.

“In addition, we are looking into placing changing tables in other older court facilities around the city,” wrote spokesperson Lucian Chalfen.

New Laws Help Parents

Changes to federal, state, and local law in recent years have highlighted the desire for changing stations in public bathrooms.

Last January, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law requiring new or recently renovated buildings with publicly accessible restrooms have diaper-changing accommodations.

Enforcement of the law — which applies to “any floor where public restrooms are available in gathering spaces or spaces where merchandise is sold,” like museums, theaters and malls — would be complaint-based, officials said, with civil penalties for noncompliance between $300 and $1,600.

“As a dad, I know first-hand how frustrating it can be to handle diaper emergencies in public without a changing station,” the mayor said at the time. “This new law will ensure that all parents will have access to these stations in public buildings regardless of their gender, and help make New York City fairer place to live.”

Later that year, in April, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state passed a similar law as part of the budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

Both moves were preceded by former President Barack Obama’s signing of the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (BABIES) Act in October 2016. That law requires restrooms in publicly accessible federal buildings to have baby-changing facilities that are “safe, sanitary, and appropriate.”

The problem for Bronx moms and dads, however, is that the Bronx County Building is neither a new or newly renovated building, nor a federal one.

Still, given the perceived need, Diaz is hoping officials can install changing stations in bathrooms there as soon as possible.

“Hopefully what this will do is be a wake-up call for not only DCAS — but other city agencies with buildings as old as this one,” said Diaz, the father of two adult sons.

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