Green Latrine

By Trisha Spaulding

Michigan’s Grand Haven State Park -- 48 acres of sumptuous white-sand beach along the shores of Lake Michigan -- serves over 92,000 campers each year, and generates over $1 million in revenue. Since campers flock to the park to enjoy the million-dollar views, it was an unavoidable necessity to use the 50-year-old park bathrooms and shower house. The dark, damp and antiquated facilities inadvertently promoted water saving as campers hated to go there.

All of that changed this spring with the unveiling of Michigan’s new sustainable restroom and shower facility, the first of a green prototype, modular design. “This is a new day for the park system,” Ron Olson, chief of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division stated at the facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Our State Park Stewardship Program is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and restoring the natural and cultural resources within Michigan State Parks for current and future generations. This project takes it one step forward, by conserving and limiting the use of our natural resources.”

The collaboration included the DNR, the Michigan Department of Management and Budget and the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based, architecture and engineering firm, Integrated Architecture. The Grand Haven Park Toilet Shower Building is the first edition of a prototype facility that can be adapted to fit a large lakefront park or a small, sheltered forest preserve. A second project--currently in design for Otsego Lake State Park--is nestled in between oak, maple and pine trees. Each is designed to significantly save water and energy.

Planning Green Goals
“With $2.5 million of DNR funds paying for water and utilities in state-park facilities, conserving energy translates into saving money. A non-sustainable park and shower unit requires the energy equivalent to that used by 10 RV camp sites. A rustic toilet facility offering hot and cold running water and electric light uses the electricity equivalent to one-third RV camp site,” Dan Lord, DNR architect, explains. “The new green facility will save energy and money, and teach campers about conservation. Our goal is for them to take that knowledge back to their camp sites and ultimately back to their communities and homes,” Lord says.

“Our design mission was to aggressively address environmental and sustainable attributes while creating practical facilities that would complement each park’s unique natural beauty,” says Mike Corby, AIA, LEED AP, who led Integrated Architecture’s design of the project. The state’s initial proposal request mandated that the new facilities would:

1. Be environmentally responsible, meeting Michigan’s green-initiative standards, utilizing sustainable, renewable energy as much as possible

2. Create a positive experience that park clients would remember and share with friends and family

3. Blend with the surroundings

4. Respect the earth

5. Utilize sustainable design to educate users about green facilities and the environmental savings they offer.

Studying The Systems
With a long history of sustainable projects, Integrated Architecture’s architects, interior designers and engineers provided knowledge-based options for building systems, materials and finishes. Mechanical engineers studied options for heating, ventilation, plumbing and electrical systems that ranged from wood-fired boilers to natural ventilation, waterless urinals and wind-turbine-generated power. Each alternative included supportive information and was “recommended,” “not recommended” or listed “possible.” Architects and interior designers followed suit with building materials and finishes.

The Phase 100 study included, but wasn’t limited to, wind turbines, geothermal heating, composting toilets, grey-water reclamation, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar hot-water heating. “We looked at many different types of solar systems and finally chose a film photovoltaic system, Silicon panel PV, to assist in powering the ventilation system. We also created a building that maximizes natural light. Translucent plastic panels in the upper-third of the family shower rooms and bathrooms bring light deep into the building,” Randolph Pease, NCARB, and member of the project design team states.

Also working on the design was Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-accredited professional Jeff Werle, HVAC designer. “We considered utilizing a solar system for heating the shower water, but we were able to determine that the demand for the hot water would quickly exceed the system’s production ability. While the roof would provide a perfect location for the solar water heater, the glass-tube system was too expensive to maintain and a potential target for vandalism,” Werle says.

Adopting A Model
Final recommendations included avoiding heating systems whenever possible, and if required, limit them to a small portion of the building, using condensing boilers and in-floor radiant heat with a goal of achieving 95 percent efficiency. Plumbing recommendations featured proven commercial technologies, such as low-flow urinals, battery-powered electronic-sensor faucets, 1.5-gallon-per-minute showers and on-demand water heaters rated above 90-percent efficiency, grouped together with one heater serving three showers. These suggestions were used to create standard specifications and an adaptable, modular, prototype design that could be adjusted to serve large and small parks.

While GrandHavenBeach is a popular summer destination, it can be a harsh environment. Blowing sand and annual temperature extremes from 100+ to -20 F are the norm. The structure design had to be flexible, durable and, of course, sustainable.

“The design intent was to sandwich the shower and bathrooms between three massive masonry walls that mimicked the nearby lake breakwater walls. With the masonry walls taking the brunt of the wind and sand energy, the infill would support light, minimal material that would then define the shower and toilet rooms,” Pease states. “The pitch of the roof and its southwest orientation was perfect for the PV solar panels.”

Going Green Anyway
The state’s initial objective was to create a green building, built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED standards. The enthusiasm for sustainable design generated through the discovery and design process resulted in a desire to obtain a formal LEED rating, which was not possible because the facility does not operate year-round. Even without the LEED plaque, the facility is green. “The sustainable features incorporated in the building and building process would equal a Silver LEED certification,” Olson states.

Besides the natural lighting and solar-powered ventilation, the facility also offers energy-efficient electric lighting with occupancy sensors, timer-controlled showers, no/low VOC finishes, high recycled content block walls, sinks, countertops and toilet partitions. It is also handicap-accessible and family-friendly. The facility offers private showers and shower/toilet rooms suitable for family or individual use.

The prototype design included both a small and large size, with construction costs set at $600,000 and $800,000 respectively. Total cost for the Grand Haven project was $750,000, including demolition of the existing facility and site work.

State department officials are confident that the new facility will set the standard for park and recreation-area facilities. “This is visionary leadership for sustainable buildings, and definitely a model that park and recreation departments should emulate,” Murdoch Jameson, Chair of the State Parks Citizen Committee, said at the building’s ribbon cutting.

“While this is, perhaps, not the most glamorous of state park buildings, it is one to which every park visitor can relate,” says Paul Dickinson, AIA, Integrated Architecture president. “Our goal was to create standards and a prototype building utilizing sustainable materials and forward-thinking technologies to create green structures filled with natural light and fresh air, and surrounded by indigenous plants that would become gems of the park.”

Green gems. Indeed.

Trisha Spaulding is a Senior Associate at Integrated Architecture. For more information, visit