No one grows up saying, “I want to be in charge of port-a-potties when I grow up.” And Brenda Novarra-Schaible is no different. But where she is different is her willingness to see the need and step up to take care of it.
Brenda has worked at Centralia College for 27 years. The college is the official midpoint for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Ride (STP), a huge event drawing around 10,000 participants. A lot of work goes into planning the event and the activities that happen on the college campus every year. Brenda is part of a team comprised of other college employees. She explains, “We begin meeting early in the year preparing to host thousands of bicycle riders. Food, drink, cooling stations, vendors, camping, bicycle corral all require coordination. And one of the most important aspects of it all is taking care of the portable restrooms, or ‘port-a-potties.'”
Brenda had been assisting in various ways with STP for about seven years when it became apparent that someone needed to be the point person for the restrooms. “Someone had to be in charge, and no one seemed to want to do it,” laughs Brenda. “So I did.” She has now been coordinating them for about four years, working with Honey Bucket employee, Tim Peterson.
This year, however, when riders come through on July 16, they will need to alter their route to the bathroom. Centralia College is in the middle of building a new student center so the portable restrooms can’t be placed in their usual location on Washington Street. This year they will be placed on Walnut Street by the one-day rider area. “It sounds silly but we really had to talk about how the restrooms would be placed so that the doors didn’t open right out into the bicycle route. Plus Tim has to be able to easily access them to clean them,” she explains.
“So as far as the flow,” she winks, “You just don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Brenda says, “Then next year will be different again because the construction will be finished and we’ll need to determine what will work best with the new configuration.”
“I will soon be meeting with Tim,” Brenda says. They’ll do a walk through to make sure the new location will work for him. Then at about 5:00 or 6:00 am the day of the STP, he’ll show up and deliver all the portable toilets. Custodial staff will keep the restrooms stocked throughout the weekend.
Brenda checks in to make sure all is going well. Around 4:00 pm, Brenda and Tim connect by phone to make sure everything is in place and ready for him to pump the restrooms. Then he comes back the next morning bright and early to haul them away.
When asked what the most enjoyable aspect of organizing the portable restrooms is, Brenda laughs. “Well, it’s not exactly ‘fun’, but it is satisfying once everything is cleaned up and it’s over and it went off without a hitch. And Tim is just really nice and fun to work with.”
Fortunately things have always gone well, because Brenda always worries that she’ll have problems with cell service or not hear the phone when Tim calls to come and clean. Typically the one-day rider restrooms get moved to the beer garden area (but the move isn’t happening this year because of the construction project) so she always pictures the restrooms falling off the forklift when they are being moved. “But that hasn’t ever happened,” she laughs with relief. “But it’s different this year, and with ‘different’ you don’t always know what could happen. It’s a lot of people coming through as well,” Brenda worries.
“I really feel my job is important because it’s one of those things that people just don’t think about. Most of the buildings are closed during this time so people can’t access those restrooms. The port-a-potties are well used and it takes a lot of coordination. It follows the principles of project management: communication, coordination, follow through. Being where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and that part is very satisfying,” explains Brenda.
“I felt foolish at first and people would tease me but now I take pride in it and that kind of surprises me – although I always take pride in my work, and someone has to take care of this. And I’m happy there have been no disasters yet,” she smiles.
She answers quickly when asked what ideas she would have for the future – “Air conditioned and self-cleaning port-a-potties,” she laughs.
Even if you can’t participate in the ride, you can always go to Centralia College, located at 600 Centralia College Blvd., on July 16 this year and join in all the fun. And while you’re there you can check out the portable toilets and think about all the “behind the scenes” work that went into having them there.