New Challenge: To Build A Better Outhouse

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Front Page / Jan. 14, 2010 11:19am EST


"We just think we can do it better," says Frank Spaulding of the Vermont Dept. of Forests and Parks."We just think we can do it better," says Frank Spaulding of the Vermont Dept. of Forests and Parks.

By M.D. Drysdale

The Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association (VWMA) has invited Vermont architects and woodworkers to participate in a most unusual challenge.

The task is to design the “Green Mountain Comfort Station,” a wooden structure that will house a composting toilet to be used at outdoor recreation areas and state parks in Vermont.

A modern outhouse, that is.

Vermont State Parks are updating visitor amenities and are departing from the pit privy or the store-and-pump systems in favor of composting units.

These are a leap up from the facilities of old, and they will “enhance the experience for the park visitor,” according to Royalton native Frank Spaulding, who works for the Department of Forests and Parks.

Spaulding is quick to share his enthusiasm for modern composting toilets at campgrounds.

“There are two things all visitors to a state park do,” he told The Herald. “They build a fire. And they go to the bathroom.

“We don’t want to mess up 50% of their camping experience.”

He vividly recalls hearing an exclamation from a man who had recently entered one of the nicer models, that featured wood paneling, a skylight, and attractive information on the walls.

“D__n,” he heard the man say. “This is better than my bathroom at home.”

“They don't smell as bad,” Spaulding explained. “They’re cleaner, just nicer.”

They also don't get vandalized as much as dirty old outhouses, he said.

“People connect with them and treat them with respect,” he claimed.

The only thing that the new outhouses are lacking, the Wood Manufacturers Assn. says, and Spaulding agrees, is good aesthetics.

“Our standard building is fairly unattractive,” he said. “We just think we can do better.”

The outhouses, he declared, should look as good as they really are, not like something that somebody just hammered together yesterday.

That’s where the Green Mountain Comfort Station comes in.

Spaulding told The Herald that he would have a place in the state parks for 10 or so of the well-designed outhouses right away. But the opportunities for a really handsome composting outhouse could have commercial possibilities. There are state parks elsewhere, national parks and national forests and recreation areas, hundreds of private campgrounds that could be served.

“Installation of the Green Mountain Comfort Station could revolutionize outdoor recreation and attract a new class of outdoor enthusiasts,” VWMA concludes.

The Association has sponsored other challenges for Vermont woodworkers, said Erin Sheridan, project assistant for VWMA. A “Design with Pine” challenge was an attempt to get builders thinking about uses for the softwoods that are crowding maples and birches out of some of Vermont forests.

How To Enter

Entry forms and design requirements for the Green Mountain Comfort Station are available by visiting www.vermontwooddesigns.org or by calling 802-747-7900. The VWMA is looking for traditional joinery and locally available hardware, Vermont lumber, and an eco-friendly finish. It needs to be easily built and installed.

The Association also suggests that entrants think of a unique name and a location for their proposed structure.

When this contest is over, the winning design will definitely be built, and there will be an official unveiling, Sheridan promised.

That sounds like an event not to be missed.


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