Some may consider the arrival of a fully automated public bathroom in Old Colorado City a sign of the apocalypse, though whether it should follow the arrival of the murder hornets is another question. Ultimately, it’s beside the point—both have arrived.
Word of this technological marvel reached us at Springs magazine by way of that arbiter of good taste TikTok, where a video of it functioning garnered more than 5 million views. “What is good, Meno?” Socrates asks a companion in one of the Platonic dialogues. “Need we have anyone tell us these things?” That was before the internet—it was clear we had to check out the self-cleaning public restroom.
Located in Bancroft Park, practically within the shadow of the magisterial pillars of the PPLD Carnegie Library, the restrooms were purchased from Exeloo, a firm that started in Australia and New Zealand and is now making inroads to North America. As was recently reported in local news, the installation of the restrooms cost some $300,000, plus an installation fee of $115,000. At such a bargain basement price, what city in America can afford not to buy them?
The restrooms themselves face west and are festooned with an image of Pikes Peak and Old Colorado City from the late 19th century. Better to have turned them around so one could perhaps see the actual mountains looming behind the mountains depicted on the bathroom doors. But maybe this was purposeful. Who needs to find themselves in such a philosophical quandary about juxtaposition with a full bladder?
When my turn arrived, I approached the bathroom, hit the button that opened the door and entered. Said opening of the door was accompanied by a satisfying high tech hiss, the way that all doors do in Star Trek. There’s a futuristic vibe to the place, but it’s an idea of the future probably imagined in the mid-’70s, when the disappearance of doorknobs seemed more like a monumental link in the human evolutionary process than it does today.
After my touchless entrance to the wheelchair-friendly restroom, a deep, male voice informed me that I had 10 minutes. This was followed by the sound of rushing air and soothing classical music that would be more soothing if you could hear it over the rushing air. And over the ticking stopwatch in your head. At the end of your allotted deca-minutes, that retro sci-fi door will open, whether you’re ready or not.
The restroom is a clean and well-lit place, and it was easily the cleanest, most odorless public restroom I have ever used. After all, much of its hefty price tag is due to its self-cleaning abilities. After every 30 uses, a system of nozzles automatically sprays everything down with water and disinfectant. I’m not sure if this happens within a 10 minute cycle, but it’s best not to be in the restroom when it takes place.
As for the user experience, there is an illuminated button that dispenses toilet paper, and the toilet flushes of its own avail once one has either opened the door to exit or commenced washing one’s hands (also a touchless process). If I could install a similar interface in my own home for my teenage sons, I would not hesitate.
I am not sure I would go so far as to recommend a pilgrimage to Bancroft Park specifically to use the restroom, though in the withered world of entertainment options left to us in this pandemic, there are worse things to do. The restrooms are absolutely free, fun to use, and present us with an answer to one of the more perplexing problems of public sanitation: how to provide public toilets that are sanitary and safe. At a time when we are daily beset by increasing uncertainty on more fronts than we can count, it is heartening to know that at least one of the questions facing us has an answer.