Flushing away maintenance struggles

Bathrooms across campus have been fully upgraded to self-flushing toilets over the past year, although even newer technology looms ahead.

Mike Irish, director of facilities, said every toilet and every urinal at Portland State is now self-flushing. Yet newer developments in flushing are already appearing.

Contrary to speculation, the conversion of flushing handles to self-flushing toilets did not come as a water conservation measure, although that may or may not be one of the benefits.

Rather, Irish said, two factors dictated the installation of the robotic flushing.

“There was a bad issue with the students, and others, not flushing,” Irish offered as reason number one.

As for number two, “Students tended to kick the handles,” he said. “We had a lot of broken handles.”

Self-flushing is a technology still in development, he revealed. There have been complaints about toilets flushing more than once and he has dispatched a plumber to investigate and correct this overflush. Also, sometimes the self-flushers fail to automatically flush, though they also feature a button allowing the user to flush them manually.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Irish conceded. He said the idea of installation of self-flushers originated with Jay Kenton, former vice president for finance and administration.

“There was a lot of vandalism,” Irish explained.

It is difficult to say if the self-flushers affect the janitorial staff work, since the campus was largely self-flushing by the time the new company took over the contract.

Even as Irish spoke, a new development was appearing on the flushing horizon – the waterless urinal. Instead of water, the urinal is flushed with vegetable oil. It does require periodic cleaning.

Two of the waterless urinals were donated to the university for experimentation. The locations where they will be installed have not yet been determined but they will be installed “very shortly,” Irish said.

The new Maseeh engineering building will have waterless urinals on all floors except the first and third floors, Irish said. The Broadway Building isn’t part of the equation. It has double flush toilets but it is owned by the PSU foundation, not the university, and its flushability is not controlled by the administration.

“Water conservation is one of our issues,” Irish emphasized. A consultant from the water bureau is undertaking an analysis of water usage on the entire campus. The investigator already has concluded an analysis of water usage at University Place, which Irish said has high water bills. The results are not yet available.