Feature Article - May/June 2004
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Clean Sweep

Patron-pleasing plans for restrooms and locker rooms

By Kelli Anderson

Ask just about any recreation facility manager what it takes to make restrooms and locker rooms appealing to patrons, and the top answer will not be granite countertops, gold faucets or crown molding. Hands-down, the number-one response is most often cleanliness followed by its hands-off cousin, hand-free design. Other not-so-surprising but equally important components that add up to restroom and locker room success—like privacy, security and family-friendly design—aren't exactly new kids on the block either, but newer technology and creative solutions to age-old problems continue to satisfy the evolving expectations patrons have for these important spaces.

Hands off

As antibacterial products continue to fly off store shelves, the latest flu epidemic hits the newsstands and legions of the populace (on orders from their physicians) wage war on germs with more frequent hand-washing and less germ contact, it is no surprise that restroom and locker room spaces continue to add more hands-free design elements or anti-microbial/bacterial-treated material in response.

Patrons, now equipped with an ever-growing germ-consciousness, care more than ever about clean restrooms and locker rooms. In response, an arsenal of electronic and red-sensor devices has developed: soap dispensers, faucets, paper-towel dispensers, flushing devices and the ever-classic hand-dryers.

As with any product, given time and incentive, newer generations work out their kinks and bugs. Newer designs in paper-towel dispensers, for example, are less likely to be mistaken for relatives of the Sherman tank and offer more aesthetically pleasing options, while simpler designs and more fool-proof mechanisms make the experience an improved one for patrons used to the now-it's-working-now-it's-not scenario of earlier models.

Hands-free design is also on the increase in architectural design. Airports, among the first to use door-free restrooms, designed a hallway with a stub wall to create a U-shaped pathway at the entrance. Recreation facilities are finding that this design, especially when double-wide to accommodate wheelchairs and parents with strollers, is a great solution from both the sanitary as well as the ADA perspective.

In an ideal world, facilities would enlist the aid of an entire battalion of cleaning staff to wipe out each and every offending germ, graffitied love-note or dust bunny. However, when 24/7 care is not an option, there are plenty of strategies that can make these spaces not only look good on the surface but actually be clean in the areas where it really matters.

The right stuff

Installing the right materials and products is a step in the right direction.

"Tile, tile, tile; drainage, drainage, drainage," summarizes Mike Rock, senior director of event operations of the Pepsi Center in Denver. "You want to have tile corner to corner and floor to ceiling. It's great for removing graffiti, and it's easy to clean. And drains? You can never have enough drainage—it allows you to wash down, hose out and mop out more easily without having to carry buckets back and forth."

Durable materials also rank high on the list of restroom and locker room do's. For Rick Neish, manager for Aramark facility services and Service Master, based in Chicago, solid plastic and stainless steel earn his nod of approval.

"A better type is solid plastic instead of metal—it's durable, wears better, doesn't rust or have parts that come loose," he says. "Solid plastic or stainless steel is best for partitions, trash receptacles, towel and tissue dispensers; those hold up over the long haul."

However, metal lockers—the most affordable in upfront cost and therefore still popular—have found a way to combat their longtime corrosion enemy: water. Some metal lockers are now being designed with solid plastic bases to prevent rust damage where it is most common. Solid plastic and phenolic lockers are still a durable favorite, with wood coming in number one for luxury and aesthetics.

Toilet partitions, it turns out, have had quite a colorful history going from the more common marble of the 1920s to today's varieties of metal, painted metal, laminates, solid plastics or stainless steel. New products, however, in the search of the Holy Grails of surface materials—graffiti-proof, durable, scratch-proof, waterproof, noncorroding, LEED-certified—are being developed all the time.

Fiberglass-reinforced plastic surfaces are one such relative newcomer touting virtues of cleanability, durability and mold/mildew resistance. Likewise, a soon-to-be-released product with a solid-color reinforced composite material boasting a harder surface than solid plastic and made of recycled wood fiber is another such Holy Grail contender due out later this year.

Anti-microbial surface products are also all the rage in the war against germs. According to Jon Domisse, director of marketing and product development with a bathroom fixture and locker company, polyester resin surfaced-based products seem to be the most effective followed by solid plastic, plastic laminate and then tiles and concrete.

Spray-on anti-microbial products are typically not as effective depending on where they are applied: Where there is a lot of contact such as on door handles, these treatments tend to wear off. But overall, the jury is still out on whether products marketing themselves as anti-microbial are as effective as their claims. Ultimately, nothing can take the place of regular cleaning.