Our Bathroom Situation (or Project “Seventh Planet from the Sun”)

And the seventh planet is…. ?

The line in the picture is NOT kids waiting to check out the telescopes…. Help us solve our bathroom challenge!

When our tiny bathroom was built along with our first observatory in 1956, you had to climb stairs to view the stars, so no-one really thought about having a toilet that could accommodate a wheelchair, a parent with a child, or anyone with any mobility difficulties. There were even plans for a much larger facility with classrooms, labs and more bathrooms! But then Von Braun and friends got a bit busy building a rocket to go to the Moon.

Nearly 70 years later, we reach over 5000 visitors a year with our weekly planetarium show, observing nights, events and outreach into our community.  But we still have that solitary toilet, down a narrow corridor, and the lines can get pretty long.

While the society usually finds receptive ears in its grant requests for new outreach equipment, servicing our vintage planetarium projector and purchasing telescope parts, we have struggled to find someone willing to help with a fundamental visitor comfort issue.

We usually bring in porta potties for large daytime events, but this is not a good permanent solution. They usually don’t have lights, and no HVAC either, which could be more than miserable in the freezing cold or humidity and heat. 

The nearest sewer line is at the RV park toilet block – a long, long way uphill of us. It is unclear whether we’d be allowed to install a new larger septic any more – that isn’t allowed for main residential construction on Monte Sano and we’re close to the edge of the outcropping which isn’t ideal for a leach field. 

We are seeking funds (likely ~$45,000) to install a semi-permanent toilet trailer, with an ADA stall and ramp and at least one additional stall – or a similar solution that solves our visitor needs. You’ve probably seen these kinds of trailers at events in our downtown or elsewhere. The City Parks and Rec even looked to see if it had anything, but nothing small enough was available. 

We have the water and power hookups, and we can afford regular pumping (although we’d love to get that sponsored too!)
It’s not a sexy ask, but everyone will benefit and having better toilets will allow us to increase the number of events we can do on site.
We will use any funds raised towards site preparations, materials, and facilities acquisition and – if we raise more than we need – we’ll use the funds for ongoing maintenance (pumping, toilet paper and the like!)
Of course, if anyone reading has a suitable ADA toilet trailer, or works for an RV shop or similar and wants to talk to us about building what we need – we’d be delighted to engage. also, if any planner, environmental health person or other suitably qualified professional wants to help us investigate the septic/sewer ideas, again, reach out.

“Can’t you rent a toilet trailer instead?”
We’re a non-profit with no credit history and no fixed income (other than planetarium shows). Rental agreements and financing agreements would require personal guarantees and that’s not something the volunteers want to sign up for (we love what we do, but there are limits!)

“Shouldn’t the Park provide the toilets?”
Our lease with the Park is very clear that we are responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and improvement of our facilities. They would be happy for us to improve things, but it won’t be on their dime.

“How long will it last?”
If we take care of it, and also provide some protection for it, then it should last a decade or more. That buys us a lot of time to figure out a solution that will last for the next 70 years!

“Will you sell stickers or T shirts?”
We’ve had some truly awesome crowdfunding ideas (I give a crap about VBAS…  VBAS, best place for a Full Moon.. and so on). We’re looking into that. If you want to help, reach out!

We’d like to thank the Huntsville Redditors, Fox54, and WLRH for talking about our needs and supporting us.