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Talking about a stinky subject

Randy Distad is Farmington's parks and recreation director.

Nobody really likes them. They're dark, stinky and germy. But sooner or later, everyone will use one.

Yep. We're talking about port-a-potties.

As much as you can count on youth sports teams practicing in your neighborhood park, you can pretty much bet there will be a port-a-potty there this summer, too. In fact, the city of Farmington recently entered a three-year contract with the company, Biffs, Inc., from Shakopee.

Farmington parks and recreation director Randy Distad said the three-year contract was developed so the city did not have to do the same thing every year. There's a 30-day cancellation clause in there in case either party is not satisfied, but hopefully it's something the city won't have to worry about for a few years.

And hopefully, residents won't have to worry about having access to portable toilets, either.

"It's one of those things that people don't necessarily notice in the parks, but they're appreciative when they do notice it," Distad said.

So, just out of curiosity, we had a little conversation about port-a-potties this week.

Is there a proper terminology for them?

We call them portable toilets. They are also known as port-a-potties, biffs, or mini-biffs. That's about it. I mean, there's some other words, but I probably don't want to put those in the article. We could have a lot of fun with this one if we wanted to.

Why does the city of Farmington rent the port-a-potties?

Well, they're an alternative to actually building restroom facilities in our parks. Obviously, the cost is a major factor. For our entire summer budget, and when I say "summer," I mean typically May to August, we can do portable toilets in the parks for about $5,000.

We can put portable toilets in the parks for $5,000 versus, if you look at just a restroom building, you look at a couple hundred thousand dollars. The other thing with the portable toilets is that we don't have to maintain them, whereas if we had our own facilities, we'd have to maintain them, so there's a savings on the maintenance part, too.

How many do you rent each year?

Well, what I can tell you is what we rented last year - 15.

And you said that cost about $5,000?

Yep. That's what our budget is. I think last year we spent just under $5,000. $4,795.

Sometimes they get a little stinky, especially in the warmer months. How are they kept clean?

What we do, as part of our contract, is we have it that the vendors are responsible to clean them once a week. If we have events, then we do call them back in and clean them out. The contract is set up so they're pumped out once a week. They clean them when they're pumping them, so they'll replenish the deodorizer or the sanitizer.

What happens if someone vandalizes one or tips one over?

First of all, we want to know when that happens. If residents can make us aware of it, what we'll do is we'll call the vendor and it's the vendor's responsibility to tip them back up or take care of any vandalism, whether it's graffiti or damage to the unit itself.

Over the years we've had some burned down. In our contract it's specified that there's insurance on them and they're responsible for replacing them at their own cost. And the burning of portable toilets is nothing unique to Farmington. It happens all over. Or tipping them over.

You know, we try to anchor them down, but I'll tell you, we have some pretty - I don't want to say aggressive - we have some pretty talented kids about how they go about destroying things or vandalizing things.

I noticed in the agenda item from the March 1 meeting that the units were ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. Is that the case with all of them?

Yep. In the contract, we specify that if we place one unit in the park, it has to be ADA compliant. That means that in most parks, we have just the ADA unit. In some parks, like in Rambling River Park, we will bring other units in. In that case, we can bring in another unit. It doesn't have to be ADA compliiant. The fact that we provide one unit in the park is what we need to do to meet the federal law.

The ADA units are bigger, obviously. In 2009, the ADA units cost $95 a month, and the regular unit cost $37 a month. In the past, before we went to this having the ADA unit in there ... we were able to provide a lot more units in the parks because we were able to get more for our money. But now we are complying with the law, the ADA.

Is there any rhyme or reason to where they're placed in a park?

I don't think there's a real rhyme or reason. We want to have them in a place close to the street so they can get to them to clean them. We want to place it fairly close to where the active areas are, where we're going to get the most people - not on top of it, obviously, because of the smell - but we want to make it convenient for people. We'll place it close to the playground equipment or the picnic shelters or the fields. We'll place it closest to those facilities versus out in the open where you have to walk a long distance to get to it.

When we have special events like Dew Days, is that a separate deal or is that something that's included?

The contract only covers the regular service here, not for special events in the city parks. We provide the information for renters if they want to go with the same company, they can, but they're not required to. So it's not an exclusive, so to speak, but it is an exclusive for us, in that we'll only work with that vendor for our needs.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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