Emeryville Gets Portland Loo

The City of Emeryville has stepped forward where Berkeley fears to tread: it’s installed a public restroom.  Located on Park Avenue at the south end of Joseph Emery Park, sandwiched between the Pixar Animation Studios to the west and the Ihop on the east, the year-old new facility is the famous Portland Loo.  

The City of Portland put its name on this unit after it assembled a committee of health, law enforcement and other experts who designed it for the challenging urban environment.  With a body built of quarter-inch stainless steel, painted with graffiti-repellent epoxy, this comfort cabin can take a licking and keep on ticking.  The Emeryville unit had its grand opening more than a year ago, in March 2016.  When I visited yesterday, it was free of painted graffiti inside and out.  

Inside it’s just the basics: a rugged flush toilet with toilet seat, a toilet paper roll box, a dispenser for hand wash lotion, rails for the disabled, that’s it.  This is not one of the high-tech automated million-dollar deluxe models that San Francisco tried a few years ago. The Portland design committee opted for simplicity: less user confusion, fewer complex features to repair, less trouble to keep clean.  Some of the Loo models have a handwashing station outside the cabin, but Emeryville skipped that option. The whole assembly takes up about as much space as a parked car.  Madden Fabrication in Portland makes the units.  The complete assembly gets trucked to the site and lowered onto a prepared base by forklift.  Prices range from $90,000 to $120,000 depending on options. 

Keely Nelson, the Emeryville Public Works Associate Civil Engineer who researched the project, told me that the unit cost about $90,000 to buy from Madden, plus about $12,000 to put in the sewer lateral.  The slight additional cost for the concrete pad on which it sits was folded into the construction of the skate park.  Nelson said that the city had decided to put in a public restroom as part of the new park, but that the type of restroom hadn’t been decided.  She telephoned dozens of references in the US and Canada before recommending the Portland Loo.  Madden Fabrication, she says, were “great to work with.”  They even redesigned the door handles in response to the city’s concerns about their ADA usability.  

Prior to construction of the skate park, Nelson told me, that area used to be a hangout for transients, with the usual problems.  Things are better since the park, but there are still occasions when people spend more time inside the unit than seems normal.  However, Emeryville police can see into the bottom of the unit and can tell whether anyone is there, and how many, simply by driving by slowly.  The unit is installed just off the sidewalk on Park Avenue.  

The toilet got plugged up on a couple of occasions, reports Nelson, but nothing problematic or out of the ordinary.  The hand lotion dispenser was damaged a couple of times, as in fact it was when I visited the unit yesterday.  A replacement is on the way, Nelson said.  I saw some minor scratches on the metal inside the unit, but otherwise the unit looked new. 

Nelson was interested to learn that Green Flush Technologies across the river from Portland has recently partnered with Madden to produce a Portland Loo with utility-free flush-vault technology.  These hybrid units can be installed without a sewer hookup.  “We might use that in a future park installation,” Nelson told me.  

Community response to the loo has been great, Nelson reported.  The unit, including a short interview with Nelson, was featured in a YouTube video (at minute 16:30) and in an Emeryville Eye article.  There have been no complaints whatever — the best possible reaction for a public works project.  

Berkeley:  Are you listening?  


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