Feature Article - November 2005
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Handy Solutions to Common Problems

By Stacy St. Clair, Jenny E. Beeh and Kelli Anderson

How To Minimize Vandalism to an Outdoor Restroom

Vandalism is more than just an eyesore. It's a crime that slowly erodes a community's finances and aesthetics.

Graffiti makes up 35 percent of all vandalism in the United States, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. The federal government estimates the country spends roughly $12 billion a year to clean it up.

And it's more than just a drain on tax dollars. The National Association of Realtors estimates properties located in areas with heavy graffiti lost 15 percent of their value.

In the recreation industry, vandalism-riddled restroom structures can impact patronage. Restrooms debased by vandalism give the impression of a neglected park or facility. Even worse, it may suggest that more serious crimes—such as theft and assault—also go unchallenged there.

When you install an outdoor restroom, you're also accepting a civic duty. You assume responsibility for keeping it crime-free, protecting property values and making patrons feel safe.

Fortunately, recreation managers can successfully battle vandalism by taking proactive measures.


When designing your outdoor restroom, preventing vandalism should be a top priority. Building trash cans, soap dispensers and towel dispensers into the wall discourage abuse. Concealing plumbing valves in a common chase area away from the user will keep them from being damaged. Mounting wall vents, window frames, grab bars and toilet-paper holders with tamper-resistant screws also helps reduce destructive behavior. You also might consider 15-minute motion detectors instead of light switches and mounting the light fixtures in the chase area to provide indirect lighting to deter vandals. Stainless-steel fixtures, along with low-profile hand dryers, help maximize vandal-resistance.


The best defense against vandalism is the right building and materials. Concrete structures, for example, easily withstand the rigors of vandalism. Brick and wood, meanwhile, are more vulnerable during the graffiti-removal process. Dark, rough surfaces deter vandals because their work will not be as visible, thus denying them the thrill of seeing their crime on display. Regardless of building type, all outdoor structures should be covered with a protective coating that allows graffiti to be expunged without damaging the paint or surfaces beneath. Inside the building you may want to consider installing ceramic tile or coated concrete from floor to ceiling.


Once the properly coated building has been installed, recreation managers must maintain their vigilance. Make sure it's hard to reach the exterior walls. Use clinging plants such as ivy to break up writing space and make the wall hard to reach. Installing lights and landscaping in the area in front of the wall provides strong barriers. Keep parks clean to avoid a neglected appearance that invites vandalism. If graffiti does appear, it should be removed with two days. Statistics show graffiti removed within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero reoccurrence rate. Conversely, graffiti removed after two weeks has a near 100 percent reoccurrence rate.


It takes a village—not just recreation mangers—to defeat vandalism. Educate the public about the effects of vandalism and provide a way for them to report it. Sponsor youth programs that explain the negative impact of graffiti and other vandalism. You can help your community develop tough anti-graffiti laws and make sure they're enforced. When asked what would stop them from tagging, vandals in a recent study listed "fear of getting caught" as their top deterrent.


Here's a preventive tip near to all recreation managers' hearts: diverting vandalism to positive alternatives. Options can include youth centers, art programs and civic activities such as mural painting and graffiti cleanups.

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