Feature Article - September 2011
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Last Things First

Trends in Restroom Structures

By Rick Dandes


The first two restrooms installed were purchased prefabricated buildings. The third was purchased from a company as a "kit," then constructed by a contractor hired to complete assembly of the restroom.

Initially the "kit" type building appeared to be more cost-effective, but many factors needed to be included to determine true cost. "The cost of staff time to coordinate the "kit" type building is something that needed to be considered," Ramsbotham said.

Here is what happened during installation: "The first restroom (Stephen Harris Park) was part of a construction contract that included various improvements to our park," she said. This project required the contractor to install all of the utilities, the pad, and purchase and install the restroom. The prefabricated restroom was chosen for this project due to the duration being very short, and the desire to keep the project simple with fewer types of workers needed. The prefabricated option greatly reduced staff time for construction oversight along with permitting and inspections fees that are required for the "kit" restrooms.

"The park's second restroom installed was also a prefabricated building," she said. "This restroom was a standalone project, to be installed at an existing park (Promontory Phase II). No other park improvements were included in this project. We hired a contractor to install the utility and access features, and assist with the delivery and installation of the restroom only. This approach allowed the cost of the site work to remain separate from the cost of the building. The site work was less than $25,000, so we were not required to publically advertise. This saved us hours of staff time and administration costs. This approach saved money from the start."

The third restroom installed was built from a "kit," Ramsbotham said. This restroom was included in a large park construction project.

"The project had many features, so the trades needed to build the restroom were already involved in other components in the project," she noted. The kit option for this project made economic sense due to the project already requiring public advertisement, and staff time was also budgeted for the project.

"This park site," Ramsbotham continued, "is more remote from our main office, so our desire to have a larger storage area greatly influenced the need to use a "kit" approach.

There were problems with the kit installation. "Several construction details were overlooked by the contactor, and our staff failed to recognize them until too late (i.e., electrical conduits not coordinated in the walls, so all conduits are surface-mounted)," she said. "We had defective products delivered. These were replaced by the supplier, but staff time was needed to coordinate this and schedule of completion was slightly delayed. The overall building is not as durable and vandal-resistant as our prefabricated restrooms. The first weekend the restrooms were opened, both doors were damaged due to lack of latches on the doors. Strong winds caused the doors to blow open and swing 180 degrees. Our prefabricated restroom doors all have latches."

Aesthetics

Fee, Ramsbotham and Coakley all mentioned that aesthetics is a big trend in the business of park restrooms—and no doubt it is.

"Restrooms used to be called comfort stations," Fee said. "Fresh flowers in a simple vase would be a nice touch. I think park restrooms should feel as nice as a restroom in a well-maintained shopping mall. It should be clean, well lighted, absent of graffiti and not feel creepy. But in a park you are building a 30-year civic structure. It should look nice, be maintainable and age well. It needs to not smell distasteful, resist graffiti, resist vandalism, and feel safe and comfortable. In a park, it needs to be observable at night from a police car."

Tile, Fee said, can upgrade the aesthetic experience. It looks more finished than concrete block or fiberglass panels. It can also be customized to give a sense of place. However, dirty tile grout and chipped or scratched tile can look shoddy.

The current movement toward prefabricated park restrooms instead of site-built construction is a very hot trend, said Chuck Kaufman, the president of a restroom manufacturing company based in Reno, Nev.

Municipal agencies have proof now that these facilities cost up to 30 percent less than site-built and perform equally as well or better depending on the brand and options. Other advantages are reduced design costs (repetition of models reduce costs), specialization provides advantages in cost reduction as any manufacturing manager knows, and greatly reduced site disruption is advantageous. Most prefab manufacturers provide no cost design services and their experience greatly exceeds designers who only infrequently design pubic restroom buildings.