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It’s all in the pipes

Submitted by on 02.14.2013 – 9:46 pm

Awesome bathrooms
I have a confession to make. I use the bathroom. A lot. The biggest reason is that I have a hard time passing a drinking fountain without stopping.

abi stomberg | rawr This "cool bathroom" is on the third floor of the Mines Building.

abi stomberg | rawr
This “cool bathroom” is on the third floor of the Mines Building.

This presents two hazards. First, a significant number of drinking fountains on campus taste, as my brother once said, “like blood.” It’s actually iron, but iron makes blood taste like blood.
The second hazard is the need to find a bathroom at a moment’s notice. Anybody who has spent any time with me knows I am quite adept at finding bathrooms. And with a plentitude of bathrooms on campus, I have discovered some fantastic places to answer nature’s call.
For a good time, try the bathrooms in the first floor of Art and Architecture South. I have never seen so much marijuana related graffiti in my life, and that includes two years in Southern California. They provide a fairly pleasant experience, though, meeting the criteria of subdued lighting and big stalls.
If you are more in the bizarre divisions, old-time-high-school-gym-shower mood, try the bathrooms on the first floor of Renfrew. The stalls are separated from the urinals by a weird tile-covered wall, and all sorts of nooks and crannies — and also benches make the room an interesting one.
Perhaps the greatest old-timey bathrooms on campus can be found on any of the upper floors of the Brink-Phinney Labyrinth. The former dormitories show off their glory in the bathrooms.
Just the other day, I discovered probably the creepiest place on campus. The door says it’s a shower. None of the brown-painted stalls have doors, and only the middle one still has a toilet. Not super creepy, until you see chain link gate separating the back part of the room. In the dim light, you can see a washer, and off to the corner is the old, yellow-tiled shower itself. It’s like looking at something out of a Stephen King novel.
I would be remiss here to not give a shout-out to the third floor Student Union Building men’s room. It has an anteroom with stairs leading up to the actual bathroom entrance. It feels like you are literally approaching the throne while you are approaching the throne.
Two bathrooms very nearly tie for the greatest bathrooms on campus in my book. The first is in the depths of the Administration Building. Down in the basement — the part you access across from Stover’s — is a pair of bathrooms. You walk down the stairs, and there is a door at the bottom. Walking through the door, a wave of heat envelops you like the most pleasant blanket on a cold day. It might be a thousand degrees down there. In the middle of a Moscow snowstorm, that is a beautiful thing.
The bathroom itself is like walking into an old gym bathroom. Walk around the greeting wall, behind which are the sinks and urinals. Behind the sink wall, a row of stalls wait for you. They are a little small, but the beauty of this bathrooms is nobody is ever down there. In three years of using them, I think I have seen somebody down there maybe once.
As a further plus, there is a shelf running along one wall, so you can store all of your stuff while taking care of business.
The greatest bathroom on campus — and it is only marginally better than the Admin one I just mentioned — is found on the third floor of the Mines building. It’s all in the décor. Black, white and grey diamonds run across the floor and halfway up the walls. It’s positively mesmerizing.
The University of Idaho has some neat old stuff on campus. Cool buildings, great people and some truly prolific bathrooms. Next time you need the john, go out of your way. You never do know what you’ll find.

Awful fountains
Perhaps the most disappointing experience in life is approaching a drinking fountain, dying of thirst, only to find the water tastes like blood.
More properly, the water tastes like iron, or a number of other minerals picked up along the way, according to Gary Smith, water production lead for the City of Moscow.
“My job is to deal with customer complaints,” Smith said.
One of the most common complaints he gets is that water tastes funny.
“That’s something in-home that I help to try and fix,” he said.
Moscow water comes from two aquifers, an upper and a lower, or deeper, aquifer. Smith said water that comes from the upper aquifer has more iron, manganese and sulfur in it than the lower.
Water is transported from these aquifers through a filter plant, and then it is piped across town.
“We are regulated by the DEQ and EPA,” Smith said.
That is, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency, two federal agencies that deal with water quality and environmental safety, among other things.
These agencies have requirements about what minerals can appear in water, and in what quantities in order for water to be safe to drink.
“I’m not going to say we have poor quality water. I am going to say we have very high-quality water,” Smith said.
He said Moscow water is free from some of the more dangerous chemicals, like arsenic. And it is free from nitrates. He said none of the fertilizers from area farms go down that far.
Water taste comes from the pipes, both in town and on campus, Smith said.
“Campus has been around a long time,” said Mark Labolle, director of building trades.
He runs the maintenance shop for facilities management.
He said many of the pipes have been in place for decades. Eight or 10 decades, in some cases.
“We can’t make the water taste better than the pipes,” Labolle said.
He said part of the problem with water taste in certain buildings has to do with how often they get used. If water sits in the pipes because it isn’t flowing, it is going to pick up the flavors of the pipe.
These include flavors of iron and certain types of bacteria.
“It isn’t unhealthy,” he said.
The university water system has the same regulations as any city, and Labolle said they test regularly for unsafe chemicals.
Smith said some parts of Moscow have old pipes, and many college students rent apartments with these old pipes.
He said if water tastes like sulfur, it is probably because of the water heater. Certain types of bacteria thrive in places like water heaters. He said people should flush their water heaters at least once a year to help with what he calls ascetic problems.
He said another problem is people get used to water from their hometown.
“Water tastes different wherever you go,” Smith said.
He said even water in Pullman tastes different from water in Moscow because different minerals affect the water there, as well as different piping and other factors.
“I’m a firm believer of drinking municipal water,” Smith said.
Kasen Christensen can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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