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Feature Article - September 2013

Give It a Rest

The Right Restroom Design for Your Recreational Needs

By Kelli Ra Anderson


After almost 90 years, America's love affair with the 800-plus national and state parks constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is still alive and well. However, many public toilets built as part of the CCC program are nearing the end of their functional lives and are being replaced in large numbers across the country. "We're to the point where our parks are 50-plus years old, so original stick-built construction bathrooms or block bathrooms need to be replaced," said Heath Delzell, facilities engineer and design engineer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thankfully, these replacement projects are often an improvement over their predecessors. With newer technology, better planning and more design options, patrons are getting more comfort, the environment is getting some relief, and managers can get the durability, affordability and maintainability their tightened budgets and reduced staffing demand.

But whether a facility or park replaces a historic structure or simply expands restroom access for patrons in a new area, it is wise to give these structures the attention they deserve. "Restrooms don't sell a park," said William Spencer, civil engineer with MHS Planning & Design out of Tyler, Texas. "You don't hear people saying, 'That's the most beautiful restroom I've ever seen!' But they want it to be functional."

Truth be told, restrooms are often given the last and least thought in a project's planning process, and the leftover crumbs of a project's budget. And it's understandable. Restrooms do not, in fact, sell a park. But they can ruin a park experience if they aren't given due diligence. Chuck Stephenson, director of the Monroe County Parks Department in Bloomington, Ind., admitted that his park district learned that lesson the hard way.

"We received a Kellogg's grant four years ago and constructed an all-inclusive splashpad and playground. Near the end of the project, the Health Department notified us that a restroom was required. Since we did not plan for a restroom and with no infrastructure in place, we opted for a mobile restroom. This was a tragic mistake."

Thankfully, the tragedy was short-lived. Just this year, a new restroom was constructed on the site, an affordable and durable, quickly installed pre-wired, pre-plumbed structure that took only two hours to assemble. Due diligence paid off.

Give Restrooms Their Due

Today's options for restroom construction are greater than ever before. There are the well-known traditional pit and vault toilets, flush toilets and newer-kid-on-the-block, composting toilets, that can all be housed in custom-designed or prefab structures.

Prefab designs these days are also more complex, trending toward larger structures housing not just restrooms, but concessions, showers, storage units and more. In Bergen County Parks in Hackensack, N.J., for example, a new project consisting of a two-story building will be a combination family restroom/concession/press box structure near one of their baseball fields.

No longer just prefab restrooms, even the structure materials we thought we knew—concrete, for example—are offering more finishes and aesthetic options than in years past.

What design combination best suits the needs of the park and patron, however, will depend on budget, availability or access of utilities, environmental constraints and the practical needs of the users. So, where to start?

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