Huffcutt helps Indiana parks replace aging restroom facilities with precast structures.
By Heather Bremer
In Indiana, you are never more than an hour’s drive from one of the 37 Hoosier state parks.
More than 15 million people visit these dedicated natural spaces each year to hike, fish, swim, camp and explore the state’s bountiful flora and fauna.
The parks system traces its history to 1916, when Col. Richard Liber recommended the creation of a state park network as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration. Some of the system’s structures date back just as far, earning historic designations that include strict regulations about renovations.
The parks’ restroom facilities – simple structures made of wood and siding – aren’t old enough or of any particular significance to be deemed historic. So, after decades of providing millions of visitors a place to answer the call of nature and plenty of guest complaints, Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources decided it was time to replace them.
“Obviously, restrooms are important when you’re putting a million-plus people through a park in a year,” said Brandt Baughman, deputy director of operations for Indiana’s DNR. “People expect to go to nice, clean restrooms now. It’s not anything that came to a head. It’s something that we’ve been hearing for a while.”
RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE
About the time Indiana initiated the project to replace the facilities, NPCA Producer member Huffcutt Concrete of Chippewa Falls, Wis., brought a new precast production facility online, allowing the company to create consistent, durable and accurate products in a controlled environment.
“It really gave us the opportunity to expand on what we’ve already done well,” Huffcutt Sales Manager Jon Schroetke said. “We knew that we would have extra opportunities to produce some extra units with the newer technology and the new plant.”
Huffcutt landed the deal, in part, because of the timing. The company worked alongside the Indiana government on a couple of preliminary projects, distinguishing itself from its competition with quality and service. What started as providing a few units evolved into a multi-year, multi-phased approach to supply the state with Huffcutt precast structures.
“It was a really nice opportunity for Huffcutt,” Schroetke said. “It evolved into this grand idea.”
So far, the state has replaced 106 vault toilets with precast housing and vault toilet structures. Four “comfort stations,” or restroom buildings with showers, also are updated with precast facilities, with 14 more in the works. When it’s all said and done, the state will replace 182 vault toilets and 18 comfort stations.
A COMPLETE PACKAGE
Huffcutt produces four lines of vault toilets, each named after a duck species – the Mallard, the Teal, the Wood Duck and the Golden Eye – at its Chippewa Falls plant. Indiana’s state parks are outfitting restrooms with Golden Eye units, a popular design that is adaptable to various layouts.
The units are unisex with two seats and are roughly 12½ feet wide by 10 feet deep. Each housing weighs about 40,000 pounds, with another 12,000 to 15,000 pounds for the vault.
The units are built at the plant, with the floors, walls and roof all made of concrete, assembled and welded before shipment. They also come with all the ancillary items already installed, including toilets, mirrors, grab bars and toilet paper roll holders.
“We produce these at the plant, so that literally once they set down on site, they’re almost in working order,” Schroetke said. “The vault toilets are a very quick turnaround.”
Even units that need plumbing or electrical work require just a few hours of final hookups by a licensed plumber or electrician. Disruption to the park is minimal, avoiding a parade of trades workers and equipment and lengthy, frustrating closures.
“It’s a fantastic turnkey opportunity for any state, city, municipal or park,” Schroetke said. “All we’re really looking for in these vaults is for the hole to be dug. We come in with a crane. We set it. We’re in and out of there within hours, not days or weeks or months, so people can enjoy it. People aren’t disrupted by the continuous build for weeks on end in those busy seasons when the parks are being utilized to their full potential.”
And, depending on the client’s needs, Huffcutt incorporates a host of other elements. That includes solar lights and exterior profiles, produced using form liners. Exterior looks range from wood grains to river rock and limestone. Huffcutt also offers the opportunity to choose from the entire Sherman Williams paint line, allowing for customization.
“Whether it is the city or local park colors, or if they wanted to go bold and do something different, we give them that option,” Schroetke said.
Given the units’ location within Indiana state parks, measures to protect local wildlife remained vital to the project.
Cavity-nesting birds such as owls can crawl into ventilation pipes and make their way to the vault basements, where they become entrapped and die. To deter birds and other animals from entering the units, Huffcutt utilized vent screens from the Teton Raptor Center’s “Poo-Poo Project” to cap the ventilation stacks.
Since 2013, the Teton Raptor Center has distributed more than 18,000 screens to more than 640 partners across all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada.
“It is something that Huffcutt recognized as a great stewardship of the environment to do so,” Schroetke said.
Restroom facilities typically aren’t something the general public gets excited about. But when the Indiana State Parks’ Facebook page shared a post about the new facilities, Hoosiers heaped praise on the improvements.
“It’s a little funny to be excited about toilets, but I definitely was,” one commenter said.
That kind of praise means a lot to Huffcutt.
“To just hear the community say, ’Thank you. This is a great idea. We’ve been needing this for a long time,’ it’s bringing so much value to those communities into those spots,” Schroetke said. “It’s really just fun to be a part of it.”
And Indiana DNR shares Hoosiers’ enthusiasm. The units have aesthetic appeal. They are Americans With Disabilities Act compliant, ensuring all park guests can use the facilities. And they’re easy to clean and maintain, a big plus for those without access to water.
“Cleaning (a park’s facilities) can be difficult,” Baughman said. “This allows us to bring in a tank … and just go in and completely spray out and do a much better job of cleaning and in much less time.”
The project’s success has been good for Huffcutt’s business. In addition to a multitude of praises, neighboring states have heard about what the company has done for Indiana and even visited sites where the units have been installed.
Schroetke said officials are beginning to see Huffcutt as a top supplier in the industry and are impressed by the high-quality products the company produces at a competitive price.
“We didn’t get to where we are to date by not putting in the work and by not putting our best foot forward,” Schroetke said. “So, when you really look at the quality differences between our building from Day 1 to 10 years from now, the proof has been noted already in a very short order that it is a superior quality product.”
Heather Bremer is the communications manager at NPCA.