Feature Article - September 2009
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Designed For Use-and Abuse

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Emily Tipping

When you're looking at whether or not you can hook up water, you also might consider your ability to power your facility. There are many solar options available these days, so if you're off the grid—even way off the grid—you shouldn't be too concerned.

When you need to get really remote, check out the efforts of the National Park Service. It's relying on facilities that can be brought in by helicopter, by ATV—even by boat, according to Alex Rachak.

"We have developed a unit that the National Park is putting in remote places—up in the mountains, down in the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. They're designed to be helicoptered in."

From the tops of mountains to the bottoms of canyons, restrooms really can go anywhere—even in the middle of a marina.

The Hammond Marina on Lake Michigan near Chicago recently installed two floating bathhouses. Each features six bathrooms and a laundry room. The ADA-compliant 15-by-42-foot facilities are prefabricated. The Hammond Port Authority ended up going with a macerating toilet system, which reduces the potential for clogging and other plumbing problems.

The Hammond Marina features more than 1,100 slips accommodating watercraft as large as 80 feet, within view of the Chicago skyline. It's the second largest publicly owned marina on Lake Michigan, and according to the harbor master, an average weekend will see the marina serve 800 to 1,000 people daily.

"When you have a boating community with lots of people, you don't want plumbing problems," said Deborah Nattrass, co-owner of two companies that specialize in marina products. "A regular toilet wouldn't be sufficient in that type of application."

So what is a macerating system? It uses a rotating cutting blade to liquefy human waste and toilet paper. When mixed with flushing water, the waste is then pumped into a sanitary sewer as a fine slurry. In the case of the Hammond Marina, each toilet connects to a floating tank. When the tank is filled, the contents are pumped to a larger lift station, which then pumps it to the sewer.

"The plumbing is kind of a complicated, two-stage setup," said Hammond Harbormaster Keith Carey. "I'm not sure a conventional toilet would have worked. If not for the macerating pumps, I would foresee a lot of problems. The grinders seem to do a very good job of breaking down the paper and other solids to allow them to pass easily through the pumps."

The new floating facilities were customized to look like the other structures in the marina. They were fully constructed and shipped to the site with the exception of some exterior finish work done after they were placed by crane onto their floats. Ultimately, the entire construction project took less than three weeks.

First Things First...

San Francisco's Restroom Taskforce needed to determine a way to prioritize restroom improvements in the city's parks. They developed a set of criteria and questions to assist in this process. Criteria included usage, the presence of multiple nearby park facilities, and the lack of other nearby public restrooms. The taskforce also considered security or safety issues related to existing locations of some restrooms and community requests.

Three priority lists were eventually developed. Top priority was given to repairs, renovation and replacement of 18 currently open restrooms and three currently closed restrooms. The second and third level priority was given to new freestanding restrooms at eight additional locations.