Flush with Success – The Gazette

March 26, 2006
Edition: F
Page: 1A

Steve Gravelle – The Gazette

GRINNELL – Colleges brag about advances, inventions and accomplishments made on campus: diseases cured, symphonies composed, theories posited. And sometimes, you just have a lot of toilets to clean.

“It’s time-consuming, and not really where you want to be,” said Les Ollinger, associate director of facilities management at Grinnell College.

So Ollinger, 52, designed the Dry Flush Pump to make the job easier, quicker and cleaner for the college’s 51 custodians, who clean every toilet on campus at least once every two weeks.

For the cleanser to work effectively, the bowls must be drained temporarily.

“The old way to do it is to take your bowl mop and push it up and down and flush the water out,” a process that took about 5 minutes of stooped labor, Ollinger said.

That adds up when you have 1 million square feet and “I don’t know exactly how many stools” to maintain.

On his own time at home, Ollinger built a handheld pump of PVC plastic and O-rings. A couple of pumps on the handle created a siphon, emptying the bowl long enough for cleaning.

“It was a little cumbersome, but it was sure better than using the hand method,” he said.

With feedback from staff, Ollinger refined the design. He received a patent in 2002 but couldn’t interest a manufacturer until he found American Ingenuity, a Baltimore company that specializes in bringing new inventions to market. The production model is ABS plastic with an aluminum pump shaft.

“They’ve just completed the first run, and they’re sending it out to get people’s interest,” said Ollinger, who’s worked at Grinnell for 20 years. “There isn’t anything out there that does what it does.”

Ollinger’s other inventions include:

  • A better doorstop – “I don’t want to go into that too deep because I’m patenting that also.”
  • A ladder-mounted device to speed replacement of fluorescent bulbs.
  • A cart combining vacuum cleaner, trash bin and cleaning-supply organizer.

“The custodians need to have everything right there, so you’re not making multiple trips,” Ollinger said.

With a 30-foot vacuum hose, the cart stays in the hallway, allowing custodians to get in and clean the offices quickly and easily.

“We’ve had that out for about a year now,” Ollinger said. “There are a few out on the market that don’t do quite as much as what ours has done.”

Ollinger said he’s had plenty of chances to apply his own American ingenuity during his 20 years on campus.

“You don’t want to work harder, you want to work smarter and you want to give people the tools to do the job,” he said. “The people here I work for have been very supportive about what I do. It’s kind of a mini-think tank.”

- Contact the writer: (319) 398-5819 or steve.gravelle@gazettecommunications.com
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