Feature Article - May 2007
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Dressed to Impress

Fundamental Considerations in Locker Room Design and Maintenance

By Joseph Ryan

The basics

Many locker rooms just need some retooling to add that extra pizzazz, while others need a complete overhaul, but all facility managers need to make sure the basics are accomplished before looking at how to upgrade.

Most designers and facility managers agree that a locker room's size is the single most important factor. A clear lack of space will quickly turn off potential customers and make it difficult to get the most out of even the more pricey upgrades.

"A small space doesn't give you a sense of luxury or upscale, even if it is really nicely done," said Joel Cantor, principal of Cantor AIA Architect in San Francisco, Calif.

Industry guidelines suggest that recreation facilities should provide 10 to 20 square feet of space per individual in the locker room, taking into account the rush-hour periods throughout the day. In all, designers like to have the locker rooms take up about 30 percent of the facility's total indoor space.

Certainly, not all facilities can provide this much space, but experts suggest that it at least be a clear priority to do as much as possible to reach those guidelines. After all, your customer base may depend on it.

When space is tight, using it wisely is important. Locker areas should get as much space as possible, experts say.

"When people are using those lockers and they have elbows in their face, that is not good," said Thomas of Fitness Management Consulting. "You want enough room were people can sit there and get up and down and stuff without bumping into each other."

When it comes to choosing the style of lockers—your patrons' own private space—it seems these days metal is out, even though it can often be the cheapest material for one of the most expensive elements in the room.

"I would be hard pressed to find metal lockers in any good health club these days," Cantor said.

Designers say some public facilities can still get away with metal lockers, especially schools and colleges where abuse is expected. But for health clubs and other recreation facilities, wood, laminate or plastic lockers are the recommended way to go. To choose among the three, consider who will be using them.

Plastic may be the best material for a pool environment, where high humidity, chemicals and soggy clothes can take a quick toll on wood and laminate. If you are going high-class, and expect to charge your customers a mint, then solid wood is preferred.

In updating a locker room, you may want to consider switching out old metal for new laminate, which is cheaper than solid wood, but better-looking than some plastics or metal.

Cantor suggested that replacing old lockers can have the single biggest impact on the appearance of the room and will be easier and more cost-effective than some other changes.

"To upgrade the tile—it is a big cost," Cantor said. "To change out the lockers—that is a lot simpler."

The size of the individual lockers is also important. Customers will want enough space to be able to hang a suit coat or dress shirt without wrinkling it.

Designers and managers generally agree that every facility needs showers, whether you have a pool or not, and these days that means private showers. One sure way to attract more customers with your locker rooms, especially those of younger generations, is to convert your communal showers to private stalls. This can be a relatively cost-effective procedure, depending on your current shower setup.

"The idea of a private shower is absolutely the way to go," Thomas said. "The gang shower has gone by the wayside."

At best, converting may mean simply installing partitions between the individual shower heads, adding a door to each stall and setting up a bench area for changing. If your communal shower is big enough, the remodel can be rather painless, Cantor said.

"It really depends on how it is laid out to start with," he explained. "Sometimes it is easy to do, and sometimes it is not."

However, if the showers are not already spaced far enough apart, it could require ripping out the plumbing behind the wall, which can cost big bucks. Also, local health codes may require the installation of additional drains and runoff gutters—big bucks again, Cantor warned.

Finally, when significant changes are made to locker rooms, or they are being built from scratch, be aware you will have to stay in line with requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To keep facilities open and accessible to those with disabilities, federal and local laws regulate numerous aspects of public locker rooms and restrooms. Among the mandates are widths and heights of benches, heights of sinks, space of restroom stalls and shower accessibility. Be sure to consult with local health officials and federal ADA codes for the specifics that may apply to certain facilities.