Walk into the restroom at the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant in downtown Olympia, Wash., and select the toilet that appeals to you most. That’s right — each stall in the wastewater utility’s new education center will feature a different high-efficiency residential toilet. Then take the opportunity to read about its design and water-saving abilities.
Adding to the fun is the interactive computer game “Follow Your Flush,” which enables visitors to identify the travel path and time it takes for waste to reach the treatment plant from various locations, such as their home, school, or workplace.
This image shows what the new education center being built at the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant is expected to look like once construction is complete. Photo courtesy of Lisa Dennis-Perez, LOTT Alliance. Click for larger image.
“We didn’t want to miss a beat,” said Karla Fowler, the LOTT Alliance’s community relations and environmental policy director. “There is always a chance to educate people about their water usage, even while they’re on the toilet. Absolutely.”
The educational center is being built by the Olympia-based LOTT Alliance, originally an interlocal agreement among three cities and Thurston County, Wash., for the use and development of the local treatment systems. The alliance became an official organization in 2000 with the mission to “preserve and protect public health and the environment by cleaning and renewing water resources for our communities,” according to the alliance’s Web site.
The alliance’s $18.25 million, 2230-m² (24,000-ft²) expansion of the treatment plant not only will provide cohesive office space for staff but also will supply a state-of-the-art education center designed to teach both adults and children about water reuse and water conservation techniques. The project also will include an extensive upgrade for a water quality laboratory. The project is largely funded by connectivity fees. Currently, the plant serves 93,600 people in the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater, Wash.
“People have traditionally been happy not to know what happens when they flush the toilet, and people in our industry have been equally happy to stay behind the scenes,” said Lisa Dennis–Perez, LOTT Alliance public communications manager. “But now is the time to have a public face. We want the public to know what it is we do, support our activities, and understand the importance of the service we provide.”
Education Center for Both Children and Adults
The education center, expected to be completed by spring 2010, will include various interactive games, exhibits, a career center, and classroom. The alliance is going beyond its own backyard and partnering with the Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia), which will neighbor the treatment plant, to provide water education geared toward younger children.
The educational facility’s topics geared toward older children and adults include the importance of water conservation, the public’s role in preserving this resource, the science behind wastewater treatment, and careers in the industry.
|Pictured right is an informational graphic that describes the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant and its sustainable features. Photo courtesy of Lisa Dennis-Perez, LOTT Alliance. Click for larger image.|
Expecting a Return on Investment
The LOTT Alliance believes that the educational center is a sound business decision, as it will promote water conservation, which translates into flow reduction for the wastewater system, which would delay the need to add increased treatment capacity.
According to Dennis–Perez, the educational center provides a great return on investment, “since building each gallon of capacity costs approximately $20.82, and spending money on education to motivate water conservation ultimately costs less.”
Another primary reason for building an interactive education center is to spark interest in the field. Nearly 30% of the LOTT Alliance’s work force will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Since wastewater treatment isn’t traditionally thought of as a career path, the plant hopes to gain the interest of the next generation while spurring greater support from the community.
“We’ve been providing tours for years, but we wanted more,” Dennis–Perez said. “Our board was dedicated to creating an all-encompassing educational center with the idea that LOTT can help change the tide of the industry. The center is fun, interactive, and engaging. We know people will walk away with an increased understanding of the industry and their role in the environment.”
Incorporating Green Design
In addition, the plant is striving to be the “greenest” in its league. The new building will utilize a passive solar design, a living roof, and a reclaimed-water feature that will stream through a public plaza. This water feature will be surrounded by educational signs highlighting the Class A reclaimed water, all with the intent to draw people to the LOTT Alliance’s educational center for more information.
Dennis–Perez expects the educational center to thrive, drawing on its current relationships with schools and local nonprofits, as well as advertising through its partnering municipalities. The utility plans to offer a variety of tailored courses and workshops for students, featuring guest speakers from local water utilities, nonprofits such as People for Puget Sound (Seattle), and environmentally focused community groups.
“As a wastewater treatment plant, we have a responsibility to our environment,” Fowler said. “It’s not enough to simply state your mission. This is an opportunity for us to make a real difference in our community and take our role to the next level.”