Bringing Summer Camp Systems Back to Clean and Efficient Service

Indiana installers band together to provide charity system upgrades valued at $250,000

Bringing Summer Camp Systems Back to Clean and Efficient Service

On the first day of the Camp Millhouse project, this was the group who came out to volunteer or, in the case of public officials, provide guidance. From left are Kevin Hinkle, Meade Septic Design; Brett Davis, environmental health assistant director, St. Joseph County; Manass Hochstetler, Advanced Home Inspections of Elkhart County; Cody Houseknecht, Sunset Septic & Excavating; Stuart Meade, Meade Septic Design; Jon Houseknecht, Sunset Septic & Excavating; Don Schnoebelen, Schnoebelen Soil Consulting; L.A. Brown, L.A. Brown Co.; Tim Monaghan, Soil Solutions; Micha Gilly, L.A. Brown Co.; Dave Ortel, Indiana State Department of Health; Matt Johnson, Infiltrator Water Technologies; Doug Williamson, Indiana State Department of Health; and Greg Inman, Infiltrator Water Technologies.

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Every year, the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association completes a charity project. They pick a person or organization that would have a hard time affording onsite work, and they do the job for free. 

In 2020, IOWPA members worked for Camp Millhouse, an 84-year-old organization that provides summer camps for adults and children with special needs. 

“Each one of our septics has a little something wrong with it,” says Diana Breden, executive director of the camp. 

None of them were failing or causing a hazard when IOWPA came in, she adds. To maintain accreditation with the American Camp Association, she says, every spring all the camp’s tanks are pumped and inspected. But there are a lot of them. 

There were 10 wastewater systems on the property before the IOWPA project. Three cabins were served by one system, and every other building had its own system. And the systems are old.

“There were some small metal tanks. That’s how old they were,” says Jon Houseknecht of Sunset Septic in La Porte, Indiana. His company spearheaded the installation. 

That type of tank dates to the 1940s and ’50s, Houseknecht says. Breden says the pool was installed in 1950, and the camp has occupied its present site, about 9 miles from South Bend, Indiana, since 1940.

“Years ago I remember a customer who had a metal tank in the ground, and he was driving his lawnmower across, and he says it felt like it was squishy,” Houseknecht says. He probed for the tank, and his probe went right through the top. “These metal tanks are so old, and they’ve gotten so thin over years of use, and corroded, so it’s a safety issue.” Three metal tanks were pulled out and collapsed. 

The new system isn’t treating all wastewater at the camp, but it does handle the three main buildings: the lodge where campers gather and where the camp kitchen is located, the pool house, and the medical center where nurses are on duty 24/7 when campers are in residence. The project stopped short of a full new system for the camp because of the time that would have been required, Houseknecht says. But the new system connects to buildings producing most of the camp’s wastewater. And, Breden says, the new system has more capacity than the systems it replaced.

Camp Millhouse is open year-round, but hosts campers during only spring, summer and fall. About 14 campers come for spring and fall weekends. During summer, there are up to 60 campers per week for six one-week sessions. In winter only the office is open, and that’s when the camp staff plan for the coming year.

System flows

From the lodge building, wastewater emerges in two 4-inch Schedule 40 PVC pipes. One serves the kitchen, and the other the rest of the lodge. Kitchen wastewater enters a 1,500-gallon concrete tank that serves as a grease trap and then joins other wastewater in a 2,000-gallon septic tank. A second 2,000-gallon tank is connected in series. These provide anaerobic treatment and flow equalization, and also receive wastewater from a nearby cabin. 

From there water flows about 150 feet to another 2,000-gallon septic tank and then through a Polylok filter into a 2,000-gallon pump tank with duplex Zoeller model 153 pumps discharging into a common force main. 

This second set of tanks also receives wastewater from the pool house and the health care center on the north side of the pool. 

Because of the slight elevation of the main building, the first part of the system works by gravity. 

From the pump tank, the 2-inch force main runs about 330 feet to a set of splitter boxes between two Presby Advanced Enviro-Septic Beds (Infiltrator Water Technologies). Each bed is about 42 feet by 38.5 feet for 1,617 square feet of disposal area, and each bed holds 560 linear feet of Presby pipe. Dosing is 200 gallons per dose with up to 12 doses per day for the maximum 2,400 gpd capacity, and is controlled by a panel at the pump tank.

Beneath the beds are 6 inches of sand. On top is 12 inches of cover crowned to shed rain.

To do the job, Houseknecht and his team brought along their 2007 John Deere 135D excavator and 2018 John Deere 317G skid-steer. Another volunteer worker brought a Bobcat 770 skid-steer and someone else brought a smaller Bobcat excavator. 

Advance planning

It was a challenge figuring out where the tanks should go because there were several sources of wastewater scattered around the camp, says Stuart Meade of Meade Septic Design in Goshen, Indiana. He designed the system for the camp. What helped was gathering the main installers on the property and discussing problems and how to avoid them, he says.

Planning for the project started well before the installation. The neighboring landowner, Reith-Riley Construction, of South Bend, gave permission for trucks to cross its land, and the farmer renting the land agreed not to plant part of his corn crop so trucks would be able to haul in supplies. Reith-Riley also donated about 400 yards of sand for the Presby bed. 

Early in 2020, Houseknecht and his son, Cody, cleared the drainfield site of small trees and shrubs. In the fall, about two weeks before installation, a volunteer brought in his skid-steer with a brush mower and cut down all the summer foliage that would interfere with work, Houseknecht says. 

Campers move around on golf cart paths. To preserve those, IOWPA collected donations to have a crew directionally bore under the paths for the force main from the pump tank to the Presby beds, he says. 

Installation itself became a field day for IOWPA. Members volunteered to help with the installation. “We asked for help because we knew we couldn’t do it ourselves,” Houseknecht says. Others could come to learn about the Presby system. More than 20 people volunteered their time and services for the project in addition to 18 contractors. Several suppliers donated material or services. IOWPA collected donations, too, totaling about $5,000, Houseknecht says. 

For about 25 years, until 2017, the camp leased its land from another nonprofit, Breden says. Because of the lease, and friction between the organizations, there was no incentive to make capital improvements, she says. 

This was the perfect IOWPA project, Meade says, because it did something very good for some people who need the help. 

“I’m a summer camp guy,” Meade says. “I went to summer camp as a kid. I had an internship in college as a nature director. I just love summer camp.”

Installed as a commercial system, this job would have cost about $250,000, Houseknecht says. It would have taken the camp a long time to come up with the money for onsite repairs, Breden says. Families pay only $600 per camper, and the rest of the $1,300 fee is subsidized through donations. In addition, the camp is trying to raise $1.2 million to rebuild the 81-year-old lodge, the only place with air conditioning, with a kitchen, and where people can gather in bad weather, she says. 

“What IOWPA did for us is just beyond amazing,” Breden says. “It ended up not costing us anything but some pizzas and sandwiches. We fed them every day they were here.” 


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