Feature Article - May/June 2005
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Vanity Fare

Dressing up locker rooms and restrooms on a limited budget

By Kelli Anderson

Many facilities these days feel the pull of the public to make locker rooms and restrooms more appealing. These spaces—even at the high-school level—are being challenged to improve their aesthetics and to accommodate a greater variety of sports and users, while managers continue to wrestle with the age-old challenge of keeping these spaces maintainable and affordable.

The good news is that most facilities watching their bottom line still can make design, management and product choices that can take the leanest and meanest of budgets and still get attractive results.

And the survey says?

For the Geneva Community Center in Geneva, Ill., refurbishing its aging women's locker and restroom areas initially involved two goals: improve ventilation and crank the cinder-block style up a notch. Relying on the design savvy of their architects and scouting other facilities, planners decided that to best improve the aesthetics, choosing a larger, 12-inch, textured tile would offer the most significant upscale change for their buck. What they didn't know was what their members wanted beyond that. So they asked them.

"We ended up changing the configuration based on our survey because we heard patrons say they were cramped," says Sheavoun Lambillotte, superintendent of recreation for the Geneva Park District. "They thought the benches were too narrow, and the women wanted more counters, mirrors and outlets because they were too cramped in the preparation areas. Where we didn't get input from participants that they were unhappy, we didn't spend money. It was really driven by member input."

Surveys to determine what areas to improve are not only great for keeping existing patrons happy but for learning what will get the attention of potential new members.

"We looked at membership and where we needed to attract new membership," says Bruce Rider, senior director of operations at the YMCA of Bethlehem in Bethlehem, Pa. "Our locker and restroom areas were shabby looking. The reaction to the improvements has been very positive. The atmosphere is better, and we've been able to attract new members and keep existing members happy. The improvements have really helped in that regard."

Properly surveying the users in your facility gives you specific information that can make deciding where to invest your precious dollars easier. It also can result in some surprises that may change your course of direction for the better. In many cases, when you know you can't upgrade every aspect of the locker room and restroom space, the input from users can direct you and your finances to the areas of greatest user interest as well as help you avoid a designing or remodeling disaster.

In the case of Hoffman Estates Park District in Hoffman Estates, Ill., a survey of the community center's members took the park district by surprise.

"We took a membership survey to determine priorities to see what was most important," says Dean Bostrom, executive director of the Hoffman Estates Park District. "A dry sauna—which we thought we were going to eliminate because it had become hard to maintain—people viewed it as a high priority. So we gutted and resheeted the dry sauna interior, and now it looks brand new."

A good survey, however, is not as easy as it sounds. If you don't ask the right questions, you won't get the right information. In Hoffman Estates, focus groups from the park district were formed to first identify the questions.

"If you informally talk to members, it isn't necessarily representative," Bostrom says. "So when you do a survey of your members you can see if 80 percent agreed or not. You can quantify it. But we started with focus groups—any survey is only as good as its questions."