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Community Notebooks: The Bio-toilet Saga
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Bio-Toilet Correspondence 3

28-May-2010 [69]

• Bio-Toilet Problems And Follow Up: Correspondence, July 2, 2006 to March 30, 2007

Table of Contents
From Georgie to Jutta Mason, July 2, 2006

Do you have a contact in Forestry that I could ask about required distance to stay away from trees when digging in parks?

From Jutta to Forestry supervisor Chris Plant, July 2, 2006

Georgie Donais needs to know something: for the little trench for Georgie's new composting-toilet-housing in Dufferin Grove Park, how far away do we have to be from trees to protect the roots? Is it 2 meters? 3 meters?

response from Forestry supervisor Chris Plant, July 4, 2006

Unfortunately , it's not one measurement for all trees . A rule of thumb is, roots extend to the drip line of the crown , but this is only a generalization.

Fortunately , the City does have guidelines or specification for working in close proximity to City owned trees . The larger the trees diameter(dbh) the farther you need to be away from the tree. For example, to excavate near a 10cm. diameter tree you should be a minimum distance of 1.8m. from the tree's base. To excavate near a tree with a diameter of 100cm. you should be a minimum of 6.0m .

Perhaps the best / easiest thing for you to do is , give me a call when you know where you want to excavate and I'll meet with you and mark out the tree protection zone.

From Georgie to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 6, 2006


I met with Chris Plant from Forestry yesterday and he OK'd the site location and reviewed tree protection zones with staff and I.


I am awaiting your word on arrangements for sand, gravel, fences and wheelbarrow.


I have sent them under separate copy.

Ontario 1 Call Surveys: I have not yet seen them at the park; any news on your end?

From Georgie to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 6, 2006

Attached is a ZIP archive containing PDF files of the plans for the composting toilet:

East section

East elevation

North section

North elevation

South section

South elevation

Site plan toilet level

Site plan roof level

Overall site plan


To keep the depth shallow and the ramp and building height reasonable, there is a step up inside the building to get to the toilet. True accessibility would require digging down further to eliminate this step, and extending the ramp to at least quadruple its current proposed length.

Final ramp length and stair number will be determined as building progresses, and continuing efforts will be made to keep the roof height down. The drywell position may also move. Features such as openings, door shape and sculptural details will also be determined by available materials and needs determined at the time of building.

From Peter Leiss, Parks supervisor, July 11, 2006

I have the locates and one drawing of the unit. This does not include the electrical hookup or the excavation required for weeping tiles and drywell. We will need to ensure that these meet any applicable codes prior to installation.

Response from Georgie, July 11, 2006

I tried you at your office but I think I missed you. I think I'm to have a copy of it on-site; can you drop it off to me or up at the rinkhouse?

Locates: Do the locates show that the area is clear for working?

- Fences can be delivered right on the site; about 20 should do it. - Sand/Gravel is to be delivered at various points in the construction, starting next week. Last year, arrangements were made through Tino so that I could call Dan Popadiuk the morning I needed the material and it was delivered that day; can we continue with this arrangement? - Wheelbarrow: one construction-type wheelbarrow needed on-site for Wednesday.

Electrical hookup: A solar-powered fan may still be an option, but if not I'll get you a plan including wiring.

Weeping tile/drywell: This is for the foundation and, though it's shown on the site plan, us subject to change based on tree roots. Though we will be well out of the Tree Protection Zone, I want to see what kinds of roots we find when we start digging. Is it the leachate bed that you want more info on?

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Georgie, July 11, 2006

Thanks for the files. Unfortunately I can not open the zipped files as our system does not allow this. Could we meet to review the plans?

Response from Georgie, July 11, 2006

I am very concerned to have only heard back now that zip files are unopenable on your computer, as I sent the files last Thursday morning. I will re-send the drawings now, unzipped, under separate cover.

To imagine any more delays on this project is to really put its completion this summer in jeopardy; we are now starting a full month late out of an available three months to work. The last thing any of us wants is a half-finished, non-functional building that needs special protection over the winter.

I would like assurance that we are all working together here to start, sustain and finish this project. To me, our partnership means that I provide the organization and management, the volunteers, the plan, the product, and secure some financing. The city's part is to facilitate permissions in a timely manner, provide some staffing help and provide some material. So far my specific questions regarding materials have gone unanswered, and now I am to understand that the plans have not yet been looked at.

I understand that you must be swamped with your other obligations. If we can wrap up these final issues, I can get out of your hair and get to building.

Thank you very much for your consideration thus far, and I look forward to moving forward at best possible speed.

Response from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 13, 2006

Thanks for your email today

We need to meet to review the plans and additional requirements prior to the installation of this structure. I had emailed you earlier this week requesting a meeting (see below). Please let me when we could meet in order to facilitate resolving the outstanding issues.

From Dufferin Park staff Mayssan Shuja, July 13, 2006

I just heard that the Building Department is interested in the composting toilet project at Dufferin Park. Just to let you know, the structure's outer dimensions are 8' and 15.5 ', but since it is an oval, it is under 100sq ft. I believe it falls outside the building code.

Response from Georgie, July 13 2006

The building footprint will be under 100 ft2; current outer dimensions of the oval are 8' and 14.5', so that makes it around 91.1 ft2.

From Georgie, July 17, 2006

I was talking to someone this weekend who told me that if there is a pump pumping liquid, which there is, then that can be called plumbing. So they may be right about the plumbing permit.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 19, 2006

I have been to the Building Permits office and the plans as supplied are not suitable. I will be in meetings this morning however I will be available this afternoon. I have all of the documentation and requirements. The primary holdup is the BCIN Building Code Identification Number which is a new requirement since April this year. This requires someone with the certification to sign off on each drawing.

From Jutta Mason to Georgie, July 21, 2006

I talked to a contractor friend, last night and he was not very aware of the new BCIN regulations -- he says he certainly can't certify anything himself, doesn't know who can, and that even minor building permits now can take up to six months. They involve so much red tape that most people he knows don't even bother applying for small stuff.

Alert from Georgie, July 21, 2006


I am writing to update you with the progress of the composting toilet project in Dufferin Grove Park, and with an urgent appeal for help.

Peter Leiss and I have been working closely together to get past the various regulatory hurdles that keep popping up, but right now things are at a standstill. My great worry is that our efforts will not be sufficient and that the project may be stymied.

I have raised over $20,000 through my own initiative to help finance this project. Building was intended to start mid-June and wrap up mid-September, and was to involve park attendees in its creation. Indeed, some of the funding is dependent upon this condition. This is now the end of July, and we are still waiting for various aspects to move forward. It is here that I am requesting your help.

Permit We are applying for a building and a plumbing permit. The drawings I have created are requiring a stamp from someone with a Building Code Identification Number, and I am needing help meeting the other requirements of the permit process. Peter has put a call in to someone in the City, but is waiting to hear back. Is there some way we can expedite this process, and is there anyone out there who can work with us on this? We need final go-ahead from the building department by Wednesday, July 26, so this is extremely urgent.

Clay The clay we bring onto our site (I need 14 cubic yards) must apparently be certified. There is a Works & Emergency Service work site on the Lakeshore at the Humber that appears to have exactly the clay we need. Peter has put in a call there too, and is waiting to hear back. If we don't get clay, the project does not go ahead; is there a way we can get some help getting this material asap?

Toilet Delivery I have been able to make arrangements for delivery of the toilet system so that we will not require help from the city in this regard.

I understand that the city is looking at installing more composting toilets at Cherry Beach, and possibly elsewhere. The Dufferin Grove Park project could be very important in terms of setting the standard for this kind of installation. This installation has the potential to be beautiful, functional and inspirational. It will reflect well on every person and department that has been involved in it, and will show Toronto's commitment to greening its environment, and its confidence in its public spaces, in a real and concrete way.

We have started digging the foundation and so I am mostly at the park now. I can be reached on my cell phone.

Response from Jutta Mason, July 21, 2006

I've left phone messages about this problem with Sandy Straw, with her admin. assistant Liz Currie, and with Ann Ball (because of Councillor Pantalone's Parks and Trees Foundation involvement, so I'm hoping that it's not bad etiquette to ask them for help), and I've talked to Councillor Giambrone's assistant Chris Gallup. Chris said he would follow up on this as a priority, and he feels hopeful that the project won't be squashed.

This morning I posted the last two weeks of correspondence about the composting toilet on the Dufferinpark "3-1-1" web page. It already makes quite a gripping story. Hopefully it won't end up being a global warning about the dangers of bureaucracy.

Response to Georgie Donais from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 26, 2006

Good news and not so good news. I have found a supply of clay and just need to make arrangements for delivery.

The City Parks department has no staff that are able to provide the BCIN requirement for the drawings/permit. They have suggested however that there is a firm that is familiar with projects of this nature that you may want to contact.

copied text follows:

As discussed, a firm with a BCIN or BCDN (Building code designation number) for this type of work will need to be hired, to prepare a building permit submission. They will not just stamp someone else's drawings.

Many firms could do this, however you may want to include Breathe architect, when having firms quote/submit a proposal on this job, as they are focused on doing environmental/sustainable projects, and have had experience getting permits for construction methods that are not written up in the building code (ie. strawbale construction). Their contact info is: Breathe Architects
Contact: Martin Liefhebber
phone: 416-469-0018
web site:

Hope this helps.

Response from Jutta Mason, July 26, 2006

Georgie, I agree with the City that you should give the first chance to those firms who do unusual projects that are not written up in the building code. Daniel Liebeskind comes to mind, and the guy who did Bilbao (Frank Gehry). Let them know that they need to submit their proposals in triplicate, and that only the people who are in the running will be acknowledged for the next round. They probably know Liefhebber, and would enjoy entering a competition that involves him.

They should also know that the City accepts only sealed bids, once it comes down to the finalists.

Just let the architects know they need to have their work in by Thursday. I'm sure they'll figure something out.

the "living roof" at the cob courtyard: the way the wooden supports are embedded in the cob is a building technique that's much older than architects

Question from Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 27 2006

I heard from Georgie that you or perhaps the councillor's office will be doing a house to house leaflet drop and arranging a community-wide meeting about the composting toilet. That's an unusual step for a small park amenity, but I gather that Frank, Bonnie and Carol are insisting on it. Since I'm doing the August park newsletter this weekend, could you let me know the meeting details so I can put them in there?

Response from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, July 28, 2006

I am in the process of setting up a public meeting to discuss issues that have been raised surrounding the installation of the toilet. I will advise you when this might occur.

Question from Jutta Mason to Chris Gallop, assistant to Councillor Adam Giambrone, July 28, 2006

Hi Chris -- I gather that Adam wants a community meeting, in addition to the one on June which he couldn't make, about the composting toilet. I assume you'll be organizing it. Can you let me know the date and what will be on the poster, so I can put that in the August newsletter?

response from Chris Gallop, assistant to Councillor Adam Giambrone, July 28, 2006

Yes, Adam thinks that, given the concerns of a certain segment of the park community, we should hold another community meeting, perhaps in early September when people are back from their summer holidays, so that everyone has a chance to ask questions and provide their thoughts on the project.

I believe it was agreed that Peter Leiss would take the lead on organizing the logistics for this meeting, with support from our office. No date has been set as of yet.

Peter, I know we hadn't discussed possible dates yet, so I thought I'd provide a couple possibilities that work well at our end:

Tue Sept 5

Tue Sept 12

The other possibility is doing the meeting in the second half of August. Personally, I think early September will work best, but I'll discuss it with Adam and see whether he would prefer the meeting to happen sooner.

Question from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Chris Gallop, assistant to Councillor Adam Giambrone, July 28, 2006

I would like some assistance in setting this meeting. I would think that an earlier date (August) may be more suitable as there seemed to be desire to have some input on the toilet. I will leave the timing in your hands. Let me know.

Clarifications from Jutta Mason to Councillor Adam Giambrone, August 20, 2006:

Here are some facts that might be helpful to know, about the concerns raised in Bonnie and Frank's letter. I suggest that you forward this to them for their information. I have only addressed the general questions to which I know the answers. The specific technical questions they raise can best be addressed by a site visit, at which time I think that they will find Georgie's responses impressively detailed and complete. I hope this will satisfy their concerns.

1. Handwashing: The toilet will never have handwashing facilities because it has no plumbing. The dedicated handwashing sink at the cob wall is close enough, and it's in a direct line from the toilet with no intervening facilities (e.g. pool, snack bar, picnic tables). The public health inspector says he has no issues with the design, only with toilet cleanliness once it's built. He does, however, have an issue with kids urinating all over the place, around the edges of the playground, as they presently do because of the absence of a nearby toilet. The problem is more urgent because the playground is so well used.

2. Wheelchair accessibility: The park already has accessible toilets. If this pilot project performs like the composting toilets in the national parks, no doubt the next ones will get wheelchair access, even though that adds $10,000 to the cost.

3. Liability: Toilets do not require special liability provisions. The City's insurance policy covers everything in the park.

4. Repair of the field house toilets: The existing washroom facility in the field house is not broken and so does not need repair. Like many other washrooms in city parks, it's old. Many other parks are scheduled to have washroom upgrading before us. 2012 is the earliest we could dream of it (according to the capital budget). The funds that Georgie raised for the composting toilet are specific to that project and can't be re-allocated -- they did not come out of any capital budget.

5. Year-round opening: There is no chance of either the field house washrooms or the composting toilet being open year-round. Our park already has an extended public washroom season at both ends and it will not get any further extension. This is an operating-budget issue, not a "repair" issue. The rink house washrooms are available in the winter.

6. Police surveillance: The toilet will not obstruct police surveillance (which in any case happens very rarely) any more than existing trees, bushes, and other park buildings obstruct police.

7. Staffing: Dufferin Grove Park has the unusual case of rec staff looking after almost everything. This has been well worked out among experienced staff over the past ten years. Monitoring the toilet for number of users, cranking, cleaning, locking and unlocking the toilet and reporting on its function is already incorporated into their upcoming task list. The rec staff are very committed to this experiment because they have strong environmental interests, and because their job includes addressing the needs of parents with young children.

8. Public meeting: There was a well-advertised public meeting about the composting toilet project on Sunday June 25 at 3 p.m., on site. Tino DeCastro, Peter Leiss and the Councillor were sent invitations on June 19. The people who attended were predominantly playground users because it is parents of young children who have been asking for a toilet nearby for many years.

9. Open green space: The park is 14.2 acres in size. It includes a number of amenities, like the rink and its change house, the field house, the baseball backstop, the playground and the wading pool. It also has some fenced gardens. That leaves lots of open green space (turf). The addition of a cob structure of less than 100 square feet will not spoil the park.

10. Deterioration of the cob courtyard: sometimes folk arts which developed over thousands of years are lost in the modern day and have to be regained. In some parts of the cob courtyard, the plaster didn't stick. If one method didn't work out, we need trial and error to find a better way. Also, some of the structure was too easy for kids to climb, so a bit of the wall has been remodelled this summer. This project has been ongoing and required tarps for keeping in the moisture. That stage is now complete; the last stages of re-plastering start tomorrow. The tarps have been gone for several weeks and the courtyard will soon look even more beautiful than it did at last year's opening feast, when almost 1000 people came to celebrate this community achievement.

If the plaster still doesn't stick in those spots, we can try yet another way next year. It's only clay, sand and straw -- no big deal. There are cob structures all over the world which have lasted for hundreds of years. We'll get it right.

11. Building permit: the cob structure is less than 100 square feet, which makes it exempt from the need for a building permit. The exception is if a building has plumbing. The composting toilet is not plumbing. That's why no sink can be incorporated. There is no running water. Hopefully this issue will be cleared up shortly.

Responses to concerns, from Georgie Donais, August 21, 2006

Responses to concerns raised regarding the earthen sculpture and composting toilet facility in Dufferin Grove Park.


This toilet facility – the Phoenix 201 PF (Public Facilities) – is installed in several national and provincial parks in Ontario, as well as a couple of YMCA camps. It is a well-accepted alternative to standard sewage or septic options, where there is concern is about minimizing environmental impact and encouraging environmental stewardship.

Size Impact

The building has been designed to minimize its visual impact on the park, and to blend in as completely as possible.

- The walls are curved, so the building takes up less space than a rectilinear building of comparable dimensions

- It is nestled in amongst trees, instead of out on the open green space

- The colour of its plaster will help it to blend in with the surrounding trees

- A clerestory roof will minimize overall height

- A green roof will further integrate the structure into the park’s greenery


Parks, Forestry and Recreation is working in tandem with park users to create this facility. Park users and friends are providing materials, the toilet system and labour to build the facility. PFR is providing materials such as it has available, (sand, clay, gravel), and is involved in permissions and facilitation. PFR will maintain the facility, while park users will maintain the building, as they are currently doing with the cob wall.


Effectiveness: Staff and park users will keep a close eye on the unit’s effectiveness. Safeguards in place include:

- Slow, measured implementation: Can include opening the unit for short periods to start, to ensure that the unit is used below recommended capacity

- Ability to lock the unit down in case of misuse

- Monitoring use: Taking door counter readings will allow staff to monitor number of uses. If uses approach capacity on any particular day, the facility will be closed for the rest of the day.

- Watching for foreign objects: A door in the mechanical room gives access to the top of the compost medium, so that any foreign objects can be removed and disposed of. Standard equipment for this job includes a stick with a clasper on the end, so that staff never touches the toilet bin’s contents. This check is done before the daily turning of the pile.

- Paying attention to potential odors: All will be on the lookout for undue odors; any questionable emissions will mean closure of the facility to look into the problem.

Compost: A unit used year-round will likely have compost ready in about two years. It is possible that a seasonal-use facility such as this might take several more years than that to produce its first compost. Tests have shown that compost produced from this type of unit is safe for use on gardens, and indeed that is the intention of the unit’s designers. To be safe, compost from the facility would be destined for use on flower gardens only, away from food-producing crops.

Day-time use: A toilet that is used in the daytime only has, as a rule, fewer solid deposits than one available 24 hours a day. This actually increases the daily use threshold, although use will be kept under the published recommendations, to be on the safe side.

Additional units: The proposal of one unit is the culmination of several years of goodwill offered to the park from several parties, including anonymous donors. It is unlikely for this confluence of goodwill to occur again, so there is little expectation that another unit would be installed here, even if need proved to be great. The “several new cob structures” mentioned in the proposal refers to benches built on existing asphalt bench pads, many of which are missing their benches through age and/or use, for which there is no Parks budget for replacement.

Leachate: The manner of dealing with leachate is the same as is common in Ontario’s many national and provincial parks where this facility is installed.

From the Phoenix installation guide literature:

After filtering through the compost pile, liquid receives secondary treatment in the well-aerated, stable, peat moss medium beneath the bottom baffle. The stability and tremendous surface area of peat provides an excellent filtering medium for treating liquid. The amount of liquid discharged from the Phoenix depends upon the amount of use it receives, and the temperature and relative humidity of the ventilation air. Approximately 20 liters (five gallons) of liquid is added to the Phoenix for every 100 uses. Incoming ventilation air circulating above the secondary liquid treatment medium can evaporate some of this liquid. The remaining liquid draining from the tank should be directed to a leaching field. The liquid end product contains considerable bacteria and dissolved salts, but generally has a low coliform indicator concentration (<200 org/100 ml), low BOD, (<50mg/liter) and low TSS (<100 mg/liter) compared to septic tank effluent, so a short (8-foot) leach line is all that is necessary.

As a comparison, monitored swimming areas are required to not exceed 200 cfu (coliform forming units) per 100 ml of sample over a long period and 400 over 24 hours. Septic tank sampling would probably yield about 6,000,000 cfu/100 ml. The Phoenix leachate consistently tests at less than 10 cfu/100 ml.; usually negative, which means undetectable.

This line will run under an ornamental garden located to the immediate west of the structure, six inches under the surface of the soil. The line will be made of PVC weeping tile surrounded by filter cloth. It will be pumped there by a condensate pump which has a small reservoir and float switch and will pump the liquid up to the leach line. The garden will keep people from walking near the leach line, although the line will be buried and no evidence of it or its contents will appear above ground. The soil and plants will integrate the minerals; the liquid will evaporate and be used for plant growth.

At a maximum five gallons per 100 uses, it is exceedingly unlikely that this tiny amount of leachate would migrate laterally across the park, over the concrete collar and into the pool. Undoubtably, there is already bacteria of many kinds already in the pool, but that comes from the pool’s users, and a chlorination schedule is already in place to deal with that.

Currently, there is likely five gallons of liquid effluent per day being added to the trees around the southern playground by young children who cannot make the trek to the north washrooms without wetting themselves. A washroom close by would offer the chance to give primary and secondary treatment to the leachate before dispersal.

From Jutta Mason to Councillor Adam Giambrone, August 19, 2006

Sandy Straw came to the park today and got caught up on the project. She asked Georgie to take her around, and Georgie showed her all the interesting details. I have the impression that Sandy "gets" the project and is very interested in having it succeed. She says she's going to talk to Buildings on Monday. In the meantime, she has asked that there be no work in the cavity for Saturday and Sunday, and Georgie has committed to that. Instead, there will be other cobbing work taking place, on the two benches and the final re-plastering of the renovated cob wall.

The main point that Georgie explained to Sandy is that the building is under 100 square feet, so it is normally exempt from a building permit. If there was plumbing, then it would need a permit. But there is no plumbing -- that's exactly the point. (That's why people need to wash their hands at the cob wall sink opposite.)

As for the public meeting -- it took place on June 25 at 3 p.m. near the site, and included a walkabout. Your office was notified (and invited) on June 19. Peter Leiss was also invited, as was Tino. None of you City folks showed up but that doesn't mean the meeting wasn't real. Park users were informed by means of posters, e-lists, and plentiful word of mouth. (I just tore down the last left-over, weathered poster a couple of days ago, right by the pizza oven). Other neighbourhood concerns were raised to Georgie directly both before and after that time, and in every case she responded.

The doubts expressed now, in Frank and Bonnie's letter, fall into two categories. One is more general, and I will write out the relevant facts (to the extent that I know them) for your office by Monday. The other category is more technical, and for that, all questions should be directed to Georgie on site. I hope your office will broker such a site visit.

My main concern, as I said already, is that the gifts we got here not be squandered. - Gift #1 is the $9000 national-park style toilet from an anonymous private donor. - Gift #2 is Georgie's fundraising, which raised $12,000 from the Toronto Arts Council and the Parks and Trees Foundation. - Gift #3 -- by far the most important -- is Georgie herself, and her brilliance as a hands-on educator, sustainable builder, and environmentalist. People like that don't come along often. I hope, Adam, that you can act with that in mind.

Phone call for Jutta Mason from Parks manager Sandy Straw, August 25, 2006

Sandy has spoken to Chris Gallop, assistant to Councillor Adam Giambrone. He said that work can resume on the composting toilet. There will be an information session about progress at the toilet site on September 12, time to be determined.

Interval between June 25 public meeting and Councillor's approval: two months to the day. Amount of summer left: one week.

Phone call for Jutta Mason from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, August 30 2006:

The complainant has sent letters to the heads of several City departments, including the Building department, saying that by-laws are not being observed. The head of Buildings is very displeased and has asked for repeat visits by her inspectors.

From parks Manager Sandy Straw to Jutta Mason, Aug.31, 2006

I e-mailed the complainant twice -- on August 28 and August 31 -- to suggest that she would call me and I could give her the information we had and discuss her concerns. However she turned me down, and said she wants to wait to hear back from the various City officials to whom she'd sent a letter on August 30. I told her that as the senior Parks official I have made the offer to talk and what she does is up to her.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, August 31:

I visited Dufferin Grove today to discuss a number of issues. At that time I once again reminded you that the Parks department and City require anyone involved in the construction of the composting toilet and related activities to abide by the City of Toronto Health and Safety Guidelines. This includes paid and unpaid work. More specifically I advised that anyone working on site is required to wear Green Patch Safety boots and protective eyewear. It is also recommended that anyone working on site use gloves and wear suitable clothing for the work involved.

While on site today I also advised that the excavation be shored appropiately. I also advised you today that if visited the site and observed any violations of the Health and Safety Act that I am obliged under law to have the work stop until such time as any violations were corrected.

Work ceased and the site was closed up today. I expect that Mayssan who is on site will ensure that all of the Health and Safety regualtions are met for any work at this site.

Occupational Health and safety Act [[ ]]


Please be aware that I have no latitude in this matter.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, Aug.31 2006

I'm sorry that this latest worry has added to all of our burdens, yours and ours. Some of us don't even get paid for all the extra effort of negotiation. But I imagine that on some days you and Sandy and Tino think you couldn't be paid enough to try and deal with all the blocks. ![alt picture2]( "August 31")

However, the main objective here is to make the parks beautiful and functional, so hopefully that will be the outcome in the end. Here is the photo of the current base for the toilet.

It's easy to see that the walls have less than three feet of unsecured earth. The earth bag foundation that secures the lower section exceeds California's tough earthquake standards in strength and is certainly comparable to shoring up the walls with wood. If it's not in the building code now, hopefully it soon will be.

As I write, the lower (gravel) section of the base is being filled in with our toughest skid boxes and several layers of plywood are being cut to shape so that the entire gravel area is covered for the worker putting in the new earth bags. All this for the little structure we're trying to build.

This latest episode will certainly make a lively tale for the September newsletter -- how the City gives funds for a beautiful experiment on the one hand, and on the other hand it's caught in a sticky web that makes the use of these funds sometimes approach the impossible. I hope the newsletter is as public as it gets.


From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, August 31, 2006

According to my reading of the material you sent me, if a worker is not being paid to be working on the composting toilet, then the composting toilet is not a work site covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Quote:

3. Who is Covered by the Act?

Workplace: Any place in, on or near to where a worker works. A workplace could be a building, a mine, a construction site, an open field, a road, a forest or even a beach. The test is: Is the worker being directed and paid to be there, or to be near there? If the answer is "yes", then it is a workplace.

Worker: A person who is paid to perform work or supply services.

Peter, please point out the error in my reading of what you sent me, if there is one. Or send me contradictory material from elsewhere in the Act.

Response from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, September 1, 2006

This project is considered a Construction site and as such is covered. Eye protection is required whenever there is a possibilty of material entering the eye. Because there is no overhead work hard hats would not be required.

Response from Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, September 1, 2006

This is not an adequate reply, Peter. Please give me the relevant health and safety citation that cancels out what I quoted below.


Response from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, September 1, 2006

The City considers any work paid or not that is performed on behalf of the City to be covered by Legislation. The Ministry of Labour in decisions regarding work has decided that voluntary work is covered. It will take time to gather the information however you should consider this to be a work site that is covered by City policies and that the Health and Safety Guidelines are to be adhered to.

Response from Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, September 1, 2006

As I said to your other response, Peter, I think you may be on weak ground here. Simply asserting the same thing twice or ten times does not make it so, at least as far as the legislation is concerned, eh? So I just need to see the relevant citation that cancels out the definitions in the act which you sent me yesterday. Sounds like you're searching for it -- thanks

Site Meeting at Dufferin Grove Park, Friday September 1: with Public Health, Buildings, Parks, Councillor Adam Giambrone, project lead Georgie Donais, staff and park friends.

September 1 site meeting...
September 1 site meeting

Results: 1. New handwashing facilities are recommended but not necessary because there is a handwashing sink at the cob, well within the required distance.

2. An eight-foot high construction fence will be erected around the site and no one is allowed inside except with steel-toes boots. Children are never allowed inside until the project is completed.

3. The City has hired well-known architect Martin Liefhebber to certify the project when he is satisfied that it meets the necessary standards.

From Georgie Donais to the cob friends list, and from Jutta Mason to the park friends list, September 3, 2006


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to stomping mud with your bare feet... Please read below.

There was a recent City staff/ Councillor meeting about Georgie Donais' playground composting-toilet project. We've run into a puzzle, and we're seeking some advice about the health and safety laws. Please read this excerpt from the park web site and ask your legal friends -- there are so many smart people around the park, we're bound to find the knowledge we need. Thank you!

  • The bad news:* Parks and Recreation manager Sandy Straw says that the entire area of this cob project is legally a "building site" and therefore has to be surrounded by an eight-foot-high construction fence with no one allowed inside, ever, without regulation steel-toed boots and work gloves. So last year's cross-generational project of five hundred pairs of hands building the cob courtyard becomes impossible. Children are banned from helping in the way they did for last year's cob project.

The manager says she has to enforce this because of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This is an Act to protect workers at workplaces, but City Policy says that volunteer workers are treated just the same. We've asked where it says this in the Act. So far no one has shown us the citation that corresponds to the City policy. But City staff feel certain that the Act includes volunteers and that if the City allows us to build in the same beautiful way as last year, and we are caught, the Parks staff will be personally subject to heavy punitive fines.

Since community participation is central to Georgie's reason for doing this playground composting toilet project, we're looking for any legal information that park friends have, on this crucial issue. City staff say the law makes no distinction between construction workers building a sky-scraper and women and children shaping little bunches of clay and straw together in an ages-old shelter-building technique. We hope there is another option.

no kids allowed...
no kids allowed

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, September 6, 2006

I assume that since you are the person who met with the complainants, you have already let them know the Councillor's date and time and location, so they can attend. I have put it in the newsletter, which will be out tomorrow in time for the market and also for the park dinner dance on Friday and the street fair on Saturday. Between that and the special flyers being handed out at the market tomorrow, and the Councillor's flyers going to the neighbouring houses, that should satisfy the complainants that many people have been notified.

Will you and Sandy both be there? Will Tino?

I will need to have the citation for the OHS Act regulations affecting volunteers in time for the meeting. The decision to bar children from the site of what was supposed to be a community art project (hence the Arts Council grant), once the ground is level, will no doubt be a central issue at the meeting -- ditto the requirement for adult artists to wear steel-toed boots while they are forming the sculptured wall.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, September 11, 2006

I have had a chance to read the highlighted sections of the big stack of material you brought on Friday. I have also had the chance to read a couple of sections you did not highlight in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In addition, there has been quite a bit of discussion of the provisions you cite, among park users since Friday.

You did not highlight the definitions: The definition of a worker is as follows: "a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation."

That means that a volunteer is not a worker. A "workplace" is defined as a place "in or near which a worker works."[Page 5 of the material you gave me.]

The Occupational Health and Safety Act appears to apply to workers only. I requested the section of the Act that refers to volunteers and I assume that since you have not highlighted anything referring to volunteers, it is not in the Act.

This means that the OHSA requirements of special footwear, goggles, etc. would not apply to the Dufferin Grove Park community-built "earthen sculpture" around the prefab composting toilet.

You also highlighted minimum ages for persons allowed on an industrial site, logging operation, factory, or workplace (none under 14). However the park is none of those, nor is the area of the cob (see above.) And even if it were an industrial site, you will note for instance that the safety regulations say the age restriction does not apply if the child is accompanied by an adult. So that might guide us here as well.

You also told me on Friday that there is no written City policy that contradicts the provincial definition of a "worker."

You therefore brought along a section of the Criminal Code, in which you highlighted the following: "Everyone who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or perform a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or to any other person, arising from that work or task."

That is certainly a sensible law, and since you have a position of authority I can see why you would want to quote it. However, I want to suggest to you that it is not a reasonable step to keep a construction fence around a place where children, together with (and constantly supervised by) capable adults, wish to make an earthen sculptural shelter for a prefab toilet, using clay, sand, straw, and water. Keeping children out, under threat of "shutting Georgie down" merely because of the presence of shovels and a wheelbarrow is not a reasonable step. Requiring the cobbers, both big and little, to wear steel-toed boots while sculpting with wet clay, sand and straw is not a reasonable step.

It is an action that would bring our community project to a halt.

I would like to suggest an alternative. The construction fence can be kept around the site until the base is filled in (almost there now) and as long as the tampers are still there and in use. Then the fence can be removed when the cobbing begins. As far as I know, Georgie agrees with that suggestion.

I have also asked Kevin if he might be willing to consult the City's legal department rather than leave the City's interpretation of the OHSA entirely to Mr.James Creighton of your own Health and Safety section.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, Sept.11 2006

Victor explained at the site meeting that we need to follow the same process regardless whether we apply for a permit or not. WE still need to have certified plans and a certified inspection. The difference is ultimately the permit fee of $87.50. Parks is paying to have the work done. We are moving this forward as quickly as possible and are incurring significant costs to do so. I will ask that someone from Building is available for the meeting but I can not guarantee that.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, Sept.11 2006

Thanks for getting back to me Peter. It would be very nice to have a building code person at the meeting but what I need is the written provisions relevant to this situation. We would all appreciate it if you could bring those to the meeting, or perhaps Kevin can get them.

Perhaps this might save the CIty some money too. Perhaps you'll find that you don't need to hire an architect for a composting toilet. But if it says in the regulations that you do, we need to see that in writing, if only to bring it to the attention of our provincial and federal reperesentatives.

From project head Georgie Donais to Parks supervsior Peter Leiss, September 11, 2006

Martin Liefhebber emailed me with the review he did, and I emailed him back.

I'm confused now, as it sounds like he figures we require a permit because of the toilet, whereas we were given advice that a Class 1 sewer system is exempt. And since its surround is so small, it is also exempt. I can see by his written review that the process to attain a permit for this earthen building would be long and very pricey. Since the building code has no provisions for many aspects of this project, research and engineers' reports would be required to vouch for various aspects of the project. And all for a building that is so small that it is exempt from permitting.

The building is so tiny, is reinforced with curves and buttresses, and the walls are so thick, that it has its own structural integrity built right into the form. Is this not a great chance to see what a community can come up with when allowed to do so?

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Buildings manager Victor Araujo, September 11, 2006

Hi Victor

My understanding is that except for the application fee we are required to have certified plans and a certified inspection of the composting toilet. We have engaged an architect to provide those for us. Could someone be available to attend a community meeting tomorrow evening at Dufferin Grove?

Response to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss from Buildings manager Victor Araujo, September 11, 2006

Peter, to summerize:

The OBC classifies composting toilets as "Class 1 Sewage Systems" ( to be designed in accordance with OBC 8.3 "Class 1 Sewage Systems" provisions. The Code also requires that a "qualified person", qualified in the category of "On-Site Sewage Systems" design and inspect such system (OBC 2.18 and This is the OBC provision.

As for permits, the OBC includes "sewage systems" in the definition of "buildings", which would require a permit (OBC Act 8.-(1), and 1.-(1), and OBC, BUT, OBC,, then exempts the requirement for a permit for the construction of a "Class 1 Sewage System".

So, the permit is optional in this case, however the design, inspection, qualified person requirements are mandatory with or without a permit.

Response from Parks manager Sandy Straw to Peter Leiss, cc'd to others, September 12, 2006

That was my understanding and the direction we agreed we MUST take if this project is to be completed. There is NO ROOM to deviate from this. We are lucky to be able to proceed. Having said that the H and S stuff must also be followed in order for me to ensure it continues Thanks for all your work on this.

From Jutta Mason to Parks manager Sandy Straw, Sept.12 2006

Thanks for the cc Sandy. I'm not sure that the project can proceed under the present constraints. That will be discussed at the meeting tonight. But perhaps Victor's summary will help us untangle a bit of the regulatory confusion. It's so helpful to have things in writing.

Kevin will be talking to the City lawyer today, to see if s/he makes a case for the City overriding the definitions in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The lawyers who are involved with the park will be interested to see what he is told. It sounds as though you are saying that kids will be barred no matter what legal opinions you hear -- I hope I misunderstood.

Response from Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, September 12 2006

thanks a lot for this, it is very helpful. I've forwarded it to Georgie and we've discussed it and she's drafting a reply. I'm hoping that Victor's very clear outline of what's required may actually help us find a way out of this unhappy conundrum.

From project head Georgie Donais to architec Martin Liefhebber, Sept.12, 2006

For clarity, I thought I'd give you a bit of background on this project. Everyone else, I send this only for your records, as you're familiar with this information.

Last year in Dufferin Grove Park, I spearheaded the building of an earthen wall, 65 feet long and between four and eight feet high, and between a foot and two feet thick, depending on the where in the wall we are talking about. It was plumbed and wired, and now is the site of a bustling summer cafe in the park. (Proper washing sinks were a requirement to continue the park's summer food serving operations, and building the courtyard to house them was the community's response to Public Health's requirement.)

The foundation was a rubble trench with drainage system, with a recycled concrete stem wall. The walls were made out of cob, topped with a cedar shake overhang or plaster, and in one spot, a green roof. The entire thing was clad in lime plaster and tile mosaics.

The work was done by me and about 500 other volunteers over last summer. The wall has withstood the winter well, and except for some vandalism, is in fine shape. It is now surrounded by gardens, and has added a new dimension to a very busy area of the park.

This year's project is an extension of last year's community-created structure. One of the main points of these projects is to show that ordinary people can create shelter with their own hands, with very little money and using the human and material resources available at hand, and should be allowed to do so.

The new project was conceived as another community art project, this time surrounding the number-one most asked-for amenity in this park: a toilet. Since a plumbed toilet was prohibitively expensive, I started research into composting options. I settled on the well-respected and proven technology of the Phoenix brand, and visited the manufacturer who was working in Ontario, installing half a dozen more in St. Lawrence National Park. I saw them being installed, and witnessed them in action. The toilet assembly was purchased and donated to the park by an anonymous friend. The community art portion was financed by a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, and materials costs were to be covered by a small Parks & Trees Foundation grant.

The cob surround for the toilet is extremely small and oval in shape. I chose flexible form rammed earth (earthbags) for the foundation because they are proven (Nadir Khalili at Cal Earth has been building with them for decades) and they will work well for the curved foundation that we require. Their use in bermed and other lower-level situations is also widely accepted.

Cob is also an extensively used building material throughout the world, and we have already proven in our park that it works in our climate. Having a curved building makes sure the building supports itself. The roof spans are small enough in this case to suit a viga- and/or rafter-supported extensive green roof, depending on the materials available. The slow nature of this type of building allows us to finesse aspects of the design as we go, taking advantage of skillsets and materials that may emerge as creation progresses.

When we started this project, we were under the impression that no permits were required (Class 1 system, tiny building). I designed the project from this perspective, maximizing community participation and resultant pride and ownership in the results. The permit requirements changed back and forth a couple of times so that now we need no permits, but must act as though we were getting one. I can see from your notes that many of our initiatives -- designed and built by the community, using earthen building techniques, using human and material resources that are at hand, a budget of $30,000 -- will likely not be accommodated in this situation.

I would welcome a meeting with you, and would love to show you around the park and our projects. You are busy this week and Peter is away the next two. I can meet either this week or next.

I'd like to let you know too, that this project has been of no small interest to the surrounding community. There is another community meeting scheduled for this evening, 6:30pm at the park. We'd like to mention your preliminary "take" on this at the meeting (what you sent to Peter already). Is there anything else you'd like us to include?

Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to project head Georgie Donais, Sept.12 2006

I have spoken with Martin. He would like to meet at my office tomorrow @ 8:30 am. Does this work for you?

From City Councillor Adam Giambrone's assistant Kevin Beaulieu to Jutta Mason, September 12, 2006

Here's the City Policy to which I was provided a link by Legal:

Those who arrange for the services of volunteers, students and trainees will:

- Ensure that health and safety orientation as set out in the program standard is completed for these parties.

- Ensure they are advised and protected from hazards related to City workplaces and/or City work that may affect them.

- Take reasonable steps to ensure that these parties are competent to perform work to which they are assigned.

Workers, students and volunteers are required to:

- Participate in City-required health and safety orientation and/or job-specific health and safety training courses.

- Undertake proficiency and certification tests, as required.

- Utilize the information and skills acquired through orientation and job-specific training to protect their health and safety.

- Advise their supervisor of additional training needs.

Meeting update, September 13, 2006

kids allowed after all...
kids allowed after all

Since it rained, the meeting was held in the rink house instead. We now know that 95 adults and a whole lot of children can crowd into the rink house if necessary. The complainants who had called for the meeting didn't come, but City Parks manager Sandy Straw came, and so did her Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, and so did Recreation supervisor Tino Decastro. City Councillor Adam Giambrone was the moderator. Children as well as adults talked about wanting to help build the cob structure, wanting to have a toilet by the playground, and wanting to do something better with the environment. Georgie Donais answered questions about the way the toilet works. Many people asked the City staff and the councillor to go back to City Hall and find a way to remove the blocks to the project. They said they'd try.

They were as good as their word. Early Wednesday morning Georgie went to the Park supervisor's office for a meeting with architect Martin Liefhebber. They looked at the plans and the architect said they needed only very minor changes for him to certify them. The Buildings Department said they would fast-track the approval as soon as the certification reaches them.

Peter Leiss said that when the foundation hole is level with the ground, the project would be categorized as no longer a construction site but an art project. That means that children can help again and the fence can come down. Later, when the roof goes in, the fence will go back up briefly until that bit of construction is finished.

From Jutta Mason to City Councillor Adam Giambrone, Sept.22 2006

Hi there -- a lady named Patricia came to the toilet project today to say the composting toilet is disgusting and she's lived in the neighbourhood for 50 years and she's not putting up with it. Then she talked to a man on Sylvan and he came over and said that the toilet is stupid and he was also mad about all the trees being planted (the contractor was there doing the first reforesting the park has had in 9 years).

From City Councillor Adam Giambrone to Jutta Mason, Sept.22 2006

We formally support it 100% and now after all the consultation the decision is made and will NOT CHANGE.

From Georgie Donais to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, March 27 2007

Hello! I trust you have enjoyed your time off from hearing from me! I am beginning to marshal resources for this year's bio-toilet completion, and I'm wondering what the status is of the drawings that Martin was working on?

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Georgie Donais, March 28, 2007

I have a preliminary set with some issues to resolve.

From Georgie Donais to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, March 28 2007

Is it something I should I be in contact with Martin about?

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Georgie Donais, March 30, 2007

It might be good idea.

From Georgie Donais to architect Martin Liefhebber, March 30, 2007

It's Georgie here, of Dufferin Grove Park. I am wondering where things are at with the drawings approval regarding our earthen building/composting toilet project. We're gearing up to start our work shortly and of course will need all that squared away before we get going.