Feature Article - November 2007
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Dirty Business

What Your Restrooms Say About Your Park

By Dana Carman

"The youth football team uses concessions to support their organization," Ventura said. "It gives us some flexibility, too. As tax dollars get shorter, it can be a potential revenue generation for us. If it's not being used by that group, we have the potential to use it during the off-season or another activity."

While the buildings are designed as a kit, the ability to incorporate color, or change roofing styles or interiors does exist with many prefabrication companies, so do your homework and ask around to find the company that is able to achieve your goals. With the range of styles available, it's not hard to find a building that, while it may not match 100 percent, will come so close that it's your best bet. Especially if cost and time are factors.

"There's no question about it that the utilization of the structural, architectural and engineering designs over a broad range of building styles and replicating that over and over is a much more economical way to produce small buildings like this," Sheldon said. "For an architect to do that work from the blank page is expensive compared to a manufacturing company that is using that similar design over many different styles and sizes in a repeated fashion."

For John Elias, park operations manager for the City of Coppell, Texas, cost wasn't as much a factor as size. "It's hard to find an architect that will draw you up a very small, straightforward restroom building," he said.

It would also be hard to find an architect and contractor that could whip up a restroom facility and have it ready to go as quick as a prefabricated building can be installed, which can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days in most cases. This can be significant if you can't close off areas due to construction or if your timing and the weather don't mix.

Another significant point of note is that prefabricated structures are already ADA-compliant, so going from purchase to installation could, in theory, be as easy as pointing and clicking depending on your park's needs.

Attractive Is as Attractive Does

Unfortunately, restroom facilities are too often the victims of vandalism, ranging from simple tagging to arson. This is why the structures on the market today are designed to withstand any kind of worst-case scenario and feature things like fiberglass reinforced panel (FRP), which is easy to clean and hard to mess with. Similarly, many opt for stainless steel fixtures rather than porcelain because the porcelain can be ripped off the wall and broken.

However, just because a facility is durable doesn't mean it has to be ugly. In fact, Claire Miller, preserve manager for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in the city of Scottsdale, Ariz., feels that the nicer your facility, the less attention the vandals will pay. For Miller, when planning their newest facility at the trailhead of Lost Dog Wash, aesthetics were a top priority. The facility needed to fit into the landscape of the existing Arizona desert environment. To achieve that, the facility was made from rammed earth, which is soil mixed with cement and compacted into forms. The soil in this particular mix was the soil that was excavated from the site, so it was a perfect match for the natural landscape, not to mention a reuse of materials.

The building was designed by WeddleGilmore Architects and has won awards for its design and sustainability. Yet, despite its natural and striking appearance, Miller said it has yet to be the target of vandals. She believes it has to do with both design elements and how well-managed the area is.

"If you see a facility that's all tagged and dirty, you think that's the accepted behavior there," she said. "If there's something that's nice and supported by the fact that it's taken care of and you know others are out there watching it, it's less prone to that kind of activity."

Her philosophy on restroom facilities is simple: "Build it nice, keep it nice and take care of it," Miller said.

For Lost Dog Wash, however, it wasn't just about fitting into the landscape. "You could have the most beautiful park or trail and if you have nasty restrooms, people are going to remember," she said. "If you have a clean facility, people leave feeling overall positive about the whole experience."