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Public Bathrooms
Downtown Galveston

by David Stanowski
28 June 2008

As much as we all love our Island city, it does have a number of short comings that create day-to-day irritations. Downtown Galveston is the crown jewel of the City, but it is frustrating to both locals, and tourists that there are no public bathrooms in our entire shopping and entertainment district!

Downtown business owners are struggling to compete with shopping centers that offer  conveniences like public bathrooms, so it's incredible that the downtown Galveston has neglected to provide something this basic!

How many people would patronize a shopping center that offered no public bathrooms? This is why it should come as no surprise that the City's failure to build public bathrooms is limiting downtown business activity, as well as sales tax collections.

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The Galveston Founder's Party is primarily a public-policy think tank that seeks to solve problems such as this. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that small stand-alone public restrooms could be built on the edge of one or more of the existing downtown parking lots, on the Strand and/or Postoffice. The only way to do this quickly, and inexpensively would be to use a method that did not need to tear up the streets and sidewalks to tap into utilities: sewer, water, and electricity.

The answer seemed simple: compost toilets! These are NOT port-a-potties or "outhouses" with the usual sights and smells associated with these facilities. Compost toilets are the technology of the future, because they offer sanitary and odorless bathrooms without the need for a sewer connection.

If compost toilets were substituted for all of the conventional toilets currently used nationwide, they would save the billions of gallons of water needed each year for all of the flushs, and the billions of dollars needed to process the sewage. These toilets simply "compost" the "human output" they receive, and turn it into high-grade fertilizer that can be emptied every few months, and used by the City on our landscaping.

But, this is where the story takes an interesting turn. The Galveston Founders Party has created a great deal of interest from a variety of people who want to get involved in just these kinds of projects. Shortly before I had the idea to tackle this problem with compost toilets, I was contacted by a lady named Holly Fortenberry who wanted to bring Green solutions to the City through the GFP.

After several emails back and forth debating the pros and cons of trying to make Galveston a "Green city", I think that I convinced Holly that we had to look for ways to use Green methods that would not pose a major financial burden on our city with a Median Household Income of only $30,500. Galveston is simply not a city that can mandate Green methods that cost the residents a lot of money without reducing our rather anemic economic activity even further.

I thought that using compost toilets to bring public restrooms to downtown Galveston was a Green solution that could actually be done for less cost than the conventional method, AND it would give a boost to downtown business activity! There didn't seem to be a down side to this Green solution!

At this point, I asked Holly if she would be willing to take on this project on behalf of the GFP. She has many years of experience and training in Green technologies, so she was the perfect choice. Holly enthusiastically dove into this project, about four weeks ago, and after a great deal of work, on her part, I am excited to publish the details of her suggested design for public bathrooms in downtown Galveston!

Did I forget to mention that Holly doesn't even live in Galveston? She plans to move here next Spring, but she is already willing to lend a hand to improve our city! Her dedication and efforts should be an inspiration to everyone who does live here!

Holly consulted with several of the leading compost toilet manufacturers to find the best fit for our city. Composting toilets are rated by their capacity, so the company chosen had to offer toilets that can handle the load of a public bathroom. Many do not.

The following design was submitted by Composting Toilet Systems, Inc. of Newport, WA. It features their heavy duty CTS-914 model. CTS has over 300 units currently in use around the world.

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How CTS Composting Toilets Work

They use a Trouble-Free Design; there are only two moving parts: the fan and the toilet seat.

Compost ToiletAll CTS composting toilets are designed for odorless operation using aerobic decomposition, commonly called composting. The digester tank has a sloping floor upon which the accumulated waste, toilet paper, tissues, and other organic materials form the composition mass. Baffle walls and air channels provide an oxygen-rich environment for the ever present microorganisms that thoroughly digest and decompose the accumulating organic materials.

This aerobic decomposition generates heat, and heat rises naturally, carrying moisture-laden air and carbon dioxide up and out the vent stack. There is no methane gas produced. This natural air flow is assisted by either an AC or DC fan to create a vacuum inside the digester tank. When the toilet seat is opened, air and gases are drawn down through the toilet seat and up the vent stack, leaving the restroom odorless.

As the digesting waste slowly moves down the sloping floor, up to 90% of its volume is eliminated by decomposition and evaporation. The end product is aerated fertile organic humus, similar to garden soil, with no objectionable odor and easily removed through the access door.

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CTS has designed a public restroom for downtown Galveston based on the specifications submitted by the GFP. They will house the bathrooms in a modular building 22 feet long by 16 feet wide. The women's bathroom features two handicapped-size stalls, with commodes, and one sink. The men's bathroom contains
one handicapped-size stall, with commode, two urinals, and one sink.

This bathroom is designed to be completely "off the grid", because it needs no utility hook ups! Sewer is not needed; water, for the sink, will be supplied by a rainwater catchment and cistern system that can be filled manually in low-rain conditions; and the fans will be solar powered. Sky lights will provide lighting, and vents will keep it cool. The bathroom will be locked at night to prevent it from becoming a home to our local vagrants.

If this design is acceptable, the entire building, and all of the "plumbing", will be shipped to Galveston in modular pieces so that it can be assembled quickly on site. Site preparation will include digging a 22' by 16' pit 9 feet deep to hold the compost tanks, and whatever retaining walls may be required. Remember that the streets and sidewalks will not have to be torn up for utility connections like in conventional construction. CTS says that the bathroom can probably be assembled, and working 3-4 days after arrival!

The price quote for this public bathroom, as described, is only $88,120; delivered! CTS needs a 10-week lead time to build, and deliver it, so we now have the ability to have a fully functional public bathroom, in downtown Galveston, at a cost of approximately $100,000 installed; 12 weeks after the order is placed!
RestroomThe current design calls for a building that looks like this, 
but about three times larger. However, the outside "look" can be changed in any number of ways depending on what the City wants.

All of the other components of the design are very flexible, too. It could be built with fewer toilets, or more toilets, and/or more sinks. The building could be made out of brick, block, or stone in any design style desired. These changes would just be a matter of cost differences.

The ideal location for our new public restrooms would probably be adjacent to the trolley stop at 21st Street and Strand, in the area containing trees and benches, but there are several other possibilities. Hopefully, once the first unit is in, one or two others can be budgeted for installation at a later date.

Can the compost-toilet technology solve other problems on the Island? Of course!

Smaller versions of this design can be located along the Seawall. Since they don't need to hook up to utilities, they can be located on the south side of Seawall Boulevard, and can be attached to the south side of the Seawall itself. The street doesn't have to be torn up, the Seawall doesn't have to be breached for water and sewer lines, and City beaches can be upgraded with modern facilities. That should have a positive impact on tourism!

Finally, why run sewer lines to new developments like Marquette, when compost toilets can do the job?

It is very exciting when going Green really can solve problems without higher costs!

Thank you, Holly!

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