State Fair

Mobile restroom facility increases accessibility at Minnesota State Fair

A person poses for a portrait
Qumi Kimble, from Momentum Refresh, poses for a portrait outside her group's mobile restroom facility at the Minnesota State Fair on Wednesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

It was a standing laugh line for Jerry Hammer, the now-retired general manager of the Minnesota State Fair. “You’re only as good as your bathrooms,” he’d muse about the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

Well, the fair has upped its game this year. 

“Over the last few years, we’ve been hearing from more and more guests about the challenges of spending a full day out here at the State Fair if you need special restroom accommodations,” said Christine Noonan, marketing director for the fair. “For instance, if you are a larger child, and you don’t fit on a baby changing table, or you’re an adult in a wheelchair, and you need assistance to use the restroom.” 

Enter Momentum Refresh

Parked on a side street near Giggle’s Campfire Grill and the fair campground, it looks like a well-appointed RV from the outside, equipped with a wheelchair lift at the rear. Inside, however, is a rare offering for public events: It has a large, single restroom — providing plenty of room for people in wheelchairs to get around, and a changing table big enough for an adult. It also has equipment to lift, change and clean up people who can’t do so themselves.  

The mobile restroom is seen
The mobile restroom developed by Momentum Refresh for people with disabilities is seen at the State Fair on Wednesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Our sink is height-adjustable,” says Qumi Kimble, director of Momentum Refresh, an offshoot of Los Angeles-based Momentum, the L.A. area’s biggest disability services provider. “We have grab bars that are on the left and right side that are adjustable in height, and with just all kinds of extra support that anybody might need to be changed. The kind of things that you don’t find in the infrastructure of permanent buildings and porta-potties.”

There is a key piece that isn’t provided: slings for the hoist, since they tend to be tailored to individual users. The hoist can accommodate any sling with a looped attachment. 

Kimble says the idea grew from Momentum’s services for its own California clients.

“It was really out of the difficulty of us to be able to take the people served in our homes out into the community where we decided that we needed to come up with our own solution,” she said.

A person poses for a portrait
Qumi Kimble from Momentum Refresh poses outside her group's mobile restroom facility at the Minnesota State Fair.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

So they built a fully accessible restroom facility on wheels, from scratch, and are out operating their first round of prototypes. They cost nearly $300,000 to build. Momentum Refresh has four now and is building two more.

“We have solar panels that trickle charge and an alternate generator, that when the battery runs down to a certain percent will automatically kick on, and recharges the batteries while continuing to power everything in the vehicle. So there’s no gap in operations,” said Kimble, part of the small staff that runs the operation. “We are able to hook up to shore power, which is nice.” (That’s a technical reference from her previous career as a U.S. Navy corpsman.)

“But if we didn’t have that, with just a little bit of diesel, we could be out for days at a time,” she said. 

In addition to the State Fair, Momentum has brought the vehicle to places like arenas. Kimble said it would be ideal for gatherings from the beach to running races and other events — even to weather and other disasters, where conventional infrastructure isn’t working or available. 

It is the only such offering in the country, said Noonan, the fair’s marketing director. The fair actually paid to ship the vehicle to Minnesota for the fair. About 20 to 25 families a day have typically been finding their way to the Momentum facility, at the corner of Cosgrove Street and Lee Avenue.

Amy Sharp, of New Hope, Minn., was among them this week. 

“It’s fantastic. You don’t have to wait in line like you do at other restrooms, plus it is very wheelchair-accessible and usable,” she said.

Sharp said she has plenty of room, and people like her who use wheelchairs don’t have to share it with other fairgoers. 

Others said it made a huge difference for families of people with disabilities, who sometimes have had to cut short their time at the fair or return to their own vehicles to get enough room to change teenagers and adults who can’t care for themselves. 

The Momentum Refresh facility is free to fairgoers and open every day during the fair.

the interior of a vehicle
The Momentum Refresh vehicle is new to the Minnesota State Fair this year, aimed at better accommodating fairgoers who use wheelchairs or need assistance to use restrooms.
Tim Nelson | MPR News
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