Problem Solver - August 2011
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Reduce Park Building Maintenance Costs

Maintenance budgeting is changing faster than most park agencies can adapt. This is especially hurting current budgets because past building decisions did not take into account the long-term cost of selecting the wrong components. Public agencies that still have funds from the boom years are buying parks and park amenities for half the rate they paid in 2007. Because of the incredible purchasing power, sometimes public agencies do not pay attention to future maintenance costs of their acquisitions.

Q: What kinds of issues drive up current and future maintenance costs?

A: There are actually three maintenance cost subjects increasing current and future costs: vandalism repair or correction; early or premature failure of park building materials that were chosen incorrectly; and the impact of maintenance staff reductions or the lack of staff increases as new capital projects come on line.

Q: How is vandalism affecting our ongoing maintenance costs, and what should we do to address this problem?

A: While graffiti remains the most costly maintenance issue, wanton damage to plumbing fixtures, toilet paper dispensers, toilet partition doors, latches, hinges and partition panels, lighting, entry doors, signs and locksets annually add up to exceed available maintenance budgets. Selection of life-cycle components and designs is critical to curb these constantly increasing costs.

Designing and constructing park buildings with slightly more expensive first-cost components with a longer useful life will reduce costs in the long term. A study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that a 30 percent decrease in initial cost, accepting lighter-duty components, would be equaled in just 6.5 years of ongoing maintenance.

While in design, select components that will last 20 to 50 years with little maintenance. In the long run, the slightly higher initial cost will pay back when future maintenance dollars are decreased or eliminated.

Q: What else should we know before we select materials?

A: Unsupervised public restrooms often are constructed with conventional building components used in applications where vandalism is nonexistent and public respect is reasonable. An example is using standard toilet partitions instead of concrete block or precast concrete toilet partition panels. The conventional softer high density polyethylene materials are easily drilled, cut, marred or melted. CMU handles this abuse much better and yet this material does not cost more. When graffiti occurs, staff can just paint over it. Newer, higher technology composite toilet stall doors that require diamond tools to fabricate significantly reduce future maintenance costs when their through color, scratch resistance and non-flammability are evaluated.

Most restrooms use 18 gauge hollow steel doors at the entry. When first installed, these doors look like their more expensive cousins (14 gauge models). However, after just weeks, denting from rocks or baseball bats begins to take over and eventually replacement is required.

Depending on the environment, rust can also be a costly demon. Proper door selection can solve most door problems with improved gear hinges, stainless doors and jambs that do not rust, and door handles that cannot be bent or damaged.

Q: How can we adapt to reductions in maintenance staff?

A: Everyone loves a new park, but as years go by and park maintenance staff cannot keep up with all the requirements of these facilities, praise from press and public can turn to criticism. Run-down facilities bring unwelcome visitors to parks.

To compensate, park administrators need to learn more about designing greener park buildings, including restrooms that can last for 50 years with little maintenance. Through design and proper material selection, parks can be maintained with fewer staff and lower budgets. Stronger life cycle advantage materials are already available and still compliant with local architectural needs.


Public Restroom Company: 888-888-2060