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Wichita airport restroom going to the dogs

This is a standardized sign the federal Department of Transportation is recommending airports use for service dog restrooms, or "service animal relief areas."
This is a standardized sign the federal Department of Transportation is recommending airports use for service dog restrooms, or "service animal relief areas." U.S. Department of Transportation

Just three years after opening a $160 million terminal, Wichita Eisenhower National Airport officials are making renovations.

They're making a restroom for dogs.

More specifically, its a restroom for service animals.

The federal Department of Transportation, which is now requiring the amenity at certain airports, calls it a "Service Animal Relief Area," or SARA. The airport already had a SARA outside the east end of the terminal, near baggage claim.

But the new regulation requires a SARA "in a public, sterile area of the terminal," said Victor White, the city's director of airports. In other words it needs to be accessible to air travelers who have passed through the passenger screening area.

One of two family restrooms across from Gate 1 is getting the makeover.

White said the restroom sees little human use based on the restocking of paper towels and toilet paper. And because of the room's original, intended purpose, airport workers aren't having to do major work.

He said work that has been done so far includes removal of a toilet and installation of a six-foot by 3-foot box that's elevated from the floor. The inside of the box has artificial turf and pop-up sprinklers that wash away a dog's business. The box is equipped with a drain that's connected to the sewer.

The wheelchair-accessible room retains a sink, paper towel dispenser and hand dryer for the service animal's owner.

White said the cost to convert the room has been low and is paid for from the airport's budget. The airport is self-funded and doesn't receive any city tax dollars.

"The hardest part has been removing the toilet, patching the floor and purchasing this box (for a) couple hundred bucks," he said. "It was a very minimal cost to do this. I heard one airport spent 100,000 bucks to do it."'

White said the regulation was originally intended for hub airports that have connecting flights. But for whatever reason it expanded to include airports with 10,000 or more annual enplanements.

White said he expects the restroom to see as much, if not more, use from passengers traveling with non-service animals as those with them.

"We'll probably see more pets . . . use it," he said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark
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