Necessity is the mother of invention – public restroom facilities

Dave Sheldon

With the expansion of outdoor recreational interests, the demand for public restroom facilities in all kinds of areas is on the increase. It’s not just ballfields and campgrounds that need good public toilets; boat launch sites, hiking trails, sports facilities, and parks of all kinds are improving existing restrooms and adding new facilities.

Part of the increased need for public restrooms is simply due to population growth and the popularity of some recreation sites: more people equals more potties. Park and recreation managers know that equation all too well. You work hard to get the public involved in recreation programs or to visit a park, and pretty soon you’re looking at big bills from the porta-potty rental company.

With the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many parks have been forced to upgrade restroom facilities for accessibility. Some are finding it is easier to simply tear down an old building that doesn’t meet ADA requirements and construct a new restroom in its place.

Temporary toilets can be a partial solution, especially on big weekends or for special events where rows of these little blue pods can handle the crowds. Regular maintenance, daily in many instances, is required to keep most porta-potties from becoming unbearably foul. For this reason, rental toilets can actually be fairly expensive to maintain.

Permanent restroom buildings are the choice of most large outdoor recreation facilities as well as many smaller ones. Having well-maintained public toilets is a sure sign of customer-oriented thinking in the parks and recreation business.

No doubt, the public wants clean, comfortable, accessible restrooms, however the cost can be high if you don’t plan carefully. Building a basic structure with separate men’s and women’s restrooms can easily run over $50,000 when you add up engineering, architectural design and site construction of the building and sewer system.

Looking for toilet solutions at an affordable cost, many park and recreation managers have found the industry that supplies prefabricated permanent restrooms. These companies manufacture complete restroom buildings — either pre-fabricated or in kit form — that can be shipped to any park site for permanent installation. There are a variety of choices available:

Vault Toilets

The common solution for sites without running water or access to a sewer system is what is called a “vault toilet.” Waste is held in an underground vault or tank, usually between 750 and 1000 gallons in size, which is pumped out periodically. Vaults are made of concrete or plastic material. The most popular type of vault is made of reinforced cross-linked polyethylene. This material will not crack or leak, so it meets all environmental standards.

A typical vault toilet installation has the vault buried in the ground with a concrete slab poured in place directly over it. The building is installed on the slab with connections to the vault for the toilet and vent pipe. This type of system provides a permanent, odor-free and accessible toilet at a fraction of the cost of site-built structures.

“Odor free?” Yes, they’ve even figured out to keep vault toilet buildings from smelling so bad. Thanks to research by the U.S. Forest Service, stinky privies are now a thing of the past. The trick is to design the building and vent system so fresh air naturally flows through the building and out of the vault and vent pipe. The Forest Service calls this design the “sweet smelling toilet,” and it really works.

Pre-fabricated vault toilet choices range from buildings made of cross linked polyethylene (same material as the vault), to wood frame construction, to reinforced concrete structures. Both single, “unisex,” and double vault toilet systems are available. The concrete designs are often chosen for their superior durability in vandal-prone areas.

Composting Toilets

Another type of “waterless” system is the composting toilet. In this type of system, waste material held in a two-stage container is reduced in volume and turned into soil over time, through the natural process of aerobic decomposition. The advantage of a composting toilet system is that if it is working properly, the container will not need to be pumped out, instead, a maintenance worker will remove small amounts of the decomposed waste periodically, to keep the system at the correct level.

Because of the need for active air flow to the waste container, composting toilet systems must be equipped with an electric fan. Many designs use solar voltaic cells to provide power.

Plumbed Restrooms

Where water and sewer systems are available, plumbed restrooms provide pre-engineered and pre-fabricated facilities complete with either vitreous china or stainless steel plumbing fixtures, electrical fixtures and even water heaters where required. One advantage to this approach is that the engineering and architectural design work has been done by the manufacturer. Structural requirements and the building’s appearance, plus issues such as wheelchair accessibility, vandal resistance, and ease of maintenance have all been pre-designed into the manufactured building. Complete restroom kits are shipped to the site with architectural plans for installation by a contractor.

Plumbed restroom facilities range from simple unisex buildings with a toilet and sink, to large multi-stall structures complete with skylights, hot water and large mechanical rooms for storage of supplies and maintenance equipment. The larger plumbed restroom buildings can even be equipped with showers, making these facilities ideal for use in campgrounds or beach parks.

Wise Investment

There are many ways for park systems to respond to the increased demand for public restroom facilities. Unfortunately, doing nothing is not an option. The demand will always be there. With more people visiting parks and recreation facilities, having clean, comfortable and accessible restrooms is a wise investment.

Fortunately manufacturers have responded to the public demand with a variety of solutions that meet a variety of budgets and design requirements. For more information on the restroom systems described in this article, contact the following companies:

Romtec, Inc. 18240 North Bank Road Roseburg, OR 97470 541-496-3541 Fax: 541-496-0803 Web:

COPYRIGHT 1997 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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