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Feature Article - September 2017

The Right Rest Stop

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Dave Ramont


There are a few great equalizers in our society, and you could argue that restrooms are one of them. Everybody needs to use a public restroom on occasion, and when nature does call, we all hope to find someplace that's clean and safe. Parks departments big and small are well aware of this as they strive to use their budgets and resources wisely to provide a welcoming, friendly facility for their patrons.

Concrete Options

One popular option is to purchase a precast concrete building, which is delivered ready to use. These could either be flush (wet) buildings or vault (dry) buildings. Flush facilities arrive pre-plumbed and hook into sewer and water services, while vault restrooms typically don't use water and utilize a pump-out vault that is buried beneath the building, so no utilities are necessary.

"Many parks are trying to modernize their facilities and meet current requirements in regards to accessibility and gender neutral facilities," said Gary Burger, national sales manager for a manufacturer of both flush and vault restroom structures. "Our buildings allow any size parks to meet these needs."

There are many configurations and floorplans of flush facilities available, from single-user restrooms with one toilet and sink to multi-user restrooms with six toilets and four sinks. Family-assist style facilities are becoming more prevalent as family members—often of different genders—choose to be in a facility together. And there are also combination shower-restroom building options, as well as concession-restroom buildings, which could include a six-foot roll-up concession door and a concession room with a three-compartment stainless steel sink. Additional chase and storage areas are optional.

Many parks are trying to modernize their facilities and meet current requirements in regards to accessibility and gender neutral facilities.

And then you have the vault buildings. The single vault option has one toilet riser, a waste clean-out hatch, and a concrete waste vault, while the double vault version is equipped with two of each of those features. Burger said that while they do install more flush buildings, vault buildings are still used extensively—wherever utilities are not available. "Both styles of buildings offer a wide range of options and meet all accessibility standards," he added. "Both styles are easy to keep clean and maintain." Solar light and fan kits are also available.

Jeremy Smith, building products manager for a Midland, Va.-based manufacturer of restroom structures and other buildings, said his company also provides more flush restrooms than vault facilities. "However," he said, "there are still many remote parks without water and sewer where a vault-style restroom works great, and we sell them regularly throughout the country."

Smith added that parks and municipalities are top customers when it comes to purchasing restroom buildings. "We bid jobs and sell directly to these customers, through contractors as part of larger projects, and we also provide structures through government purchasing programs," he said.

Concrete construction makes the buildings easy to maintain and able to withstand the rigors of vandalism. They are rated for seismic activity, wind load, snow load, fire and even bullets. Burger's company offers a marine package with extra corrosion resistance.

But it's also important to manufacturers to have their buildings look inviting, and to fit in with the natural surroundings or other nearby architecture. "The good thing about concrete is that it can be cast to look like anything. So, we can meet the individual needs of any designer while still providing a low-cost, easy-to-maintain structure," Burger said.

Indeed, many choices of colors, textures and finishes are available. Some of the wall texture options at Burger's company include barn wood, stucco, aggregate, split-face block, lap siding, board and bat, brick, fieldstone, and river rock. Roof textures include cedar shake, ribbed metal and tile. Standard fixtures are porcelain or plastic, though custom options are available.

A network of licensed precast producers working with Smith's company means that buildings are manufactured and serviced by local companies. Post-tensioned and pre-stressed roofs and floors create buildings with extra strength and weather-tightness. They offer a tornado alley upgrade with heavier connections and reinforcing, a flood plain option with sealed vault and riser features, and a unit designed for petrochemical blasts. Vault structures can feature ventilation technology, which utilizes sun and wind to vent the restroom's air, and opaque windows provide some daylight. Fixtures might be stainless steel or vitreous china.

Other basic options include a self-draining soap dish; stainless steel towel dispenser with locked hinged door; stainless steel toilet seat cover dispenser; single, double or triple-roll tissue dispensers with brass padlocks or key locks; grab bars; mirrors; soap and hand sanitizer dispensers; waste receptacles; and various entrance signs—some using braille.