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Solar-Powered Toilets in Riverside Park Get $50K Grant

By Emily Frost | October 18, 2013 9:01am
 The Riverside Park Fund and Riverside Clay Tennis Association are building eco-friendly solar-powered and compostable toilets in the park. 
Solar-Powered Toilets
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Let there be light for these loos.

The first flushes of the neighborhood's eco-friendly public toilets are now a little closer — thanks to a $50,000 grant to install solar panels that will power the new bathrooms at Riverside Park

The panels are slated for an abandoned parking lot above Riverside Park's clay tennis courts at West 96th Street as part of a project to create solar-powered composting toilets, a solar-powered park maintenance facility, and to transform the parking lot into a wildflower meadow.

The waste generated by the bathroom's users will be composted and pumped up to the parking lot to feed a new wildflower garden, and the whole process will be fueled by solar power. The solar panels will also create enough energy to power the new maintenance building.

The solar-powered toilets would be New York City's first. 

The $6 million project, called "Green Outlook," marks a partnership between the Riverside Park Conservancy and the Riverside Clay Tennis Association stemming from a lack of bathrooms in the area. 

"The opening of the Hudson Riverwalk has increased bike and pedestrian traffic by thousands," said Robin Noble-Zolin, chairwoman of Green Outlook's steering committee, who, along Riverside Park chief administrator John Herrold, could not cite specific numbers.

"The path on the Hudson River Greenway does not have a public bathroom on the river from 79th Street to 124th Street." 

The portable toilets currently situated near the tennis courts just aren't cutting it, she added. 

"What we don't need these days is people hovering behind trees to go... so I couldn't be a bigger fan of this project," said Molly MacDermot, a Riverside Park volunteer. 

Project organizers are hoping to attract more funding beyond the $1.2 million already secured from outgoing City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. 

The $50,000 grant, provided by solar-power company Green Mountain Energy, will pay for more than 90 percent of the panels, Noble-Zolin said.

"We chose to work with Green Outlook Project at Riverside Park because it was conceived and designed around sustainability, and will provide its thousands of visitors with a much-needed public space and an education around the use of renewable energy and resource conservation," a Green Mountain spokeswoman said

Green Outlook organizers wouldn't say how much they've raised privately and in grants so far, but noted that slow economic recovery has affected their fundraising.

The group has also caught the eye of Helen Rosenthal, the democratic candidate for City Council in the district, who said she'd try to secure more Council funding. They have also applied for a grant through the Manhattan Borough President's capital projects funding.

"We expect to have the money to begin the design process by mid-year 2014," Noble-Zolin said.

COOKFOX Architects will begin the design process this coming summer, with construction starting sometime next fall, she noted.

The Green Outlook team has presented the concept to P.S. 87 and the Calhoun School, with plans to meet with P.S. 452, the High School for Law, Advocacy & Community Justice, and The Smith School, among others, to teach them about the technology.

"I think as people in the community come to know the project better, they will embrace the organic experience of building something that is necessary, is environmentally responsible, and that they've had a part in making happen," Noble-Zolin added. 

On Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10 a.m., the park is hosting a walkathon to raise awareness about the Green Outlook project with 2K and 5K routes beginning and ending at the Hudson River Greenway at West 95th Street.

There's a suggested fee of $20 per person or $40 per family. A post-walkathon party from noon to 2 p.m. will feature the Dirty Sock Funtime Band and Paul Vella’s Paella at the Riverside tennis courts.