Feature Article - May 2009
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Down & Dirty

Dress Up Your Locker Rooms & Restrooms

By Richard Zowie


hether your facility caters to hard-core athletes working out on the court or ballfield, or you provide fitness and recreation to more casually active patrons, your locker rooms are an integral part of those patrons' experience of your facility.

They're a place of at least two settings: Before a game or workout, your patrons go there to get changed and prepare to work up a good sweat. After the game or workout, locker rooms are a place to take a shower, change back into street clothes, and relax and unwind.

Over the years, locker rooms have progressed far beyond the wooden bench and nail in the wall to hang clothes from. Today's locker rooms are becoming more and more advanced as they focus on comfort and meeting people's ever-evolving needs. Whether they're bare-bones locker rooms and restrooms in park district recreation centers or polished locker rooms with spa-like amenities at high-end fitness clubs, the best ones all do the same thing: provide a comfortable, practical place to gear up before and cool down after activity. And, of course, brag about who's the best.

The Humanizing Touch

When we think of lockers, what often comes to mind? The loud, metallic clanging of a locker being opened or shut, perhaps. Some lockers even become a billboard of sorts as vandals use magic markers to write not-so-flattering messages on them. As far as security goes, lockers in the past ranged from built-in combination locks to vertical slots where the owner inserted their combination lock, and most locker rooms still feature this type of mechanism.

Today's locker room designers are more cognizant of the time spent there and endeavor to humanize the space, said Stephen Springs, AIA, principal with Dallas-based Brinkley Sargent Architects.

"Twenty years ago, they were designed mostly around their function and ease of maintenance," he explained. "High-end health clubs were the only exception. Now the quality of light and air and the attention to detail, fit and finish are just as important to most new projects. …Family changing rooms, once seen as a luxury if seen at all, are now givens when designing a new public facility."

Springs added that accessibility for the disabled is another aspect of design that has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.

Some modern locker rooms even incorporate small lounge spaces and comfortable furniture and televisions to give them a more home-like appearance.

"Locker rooms have always been social spaces," Springs said. "Look at the Roman baths as a precursor. It is just in the last couple of decades that I believe public facilities have approached them as such from a design standpoint. Public facilities are becoming more health-club-like."

Mike Tierney, the senior director of arena operations at the Pepsi Center in Denver (home of the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche), has been in charge of upgrades at the facility's locker rooms and restrooms. The center has one locker room for both the Nuggets and Avalanche along with visiting locker rooms for both hoops and hockey. The arena also has other locker rooms for multi-team tournament events and concerts.

"Additionally, we have two male and two female locker rooms for event staff to change into their uniforms prior to their shifts," Tierney said.