Feature Article - May 2009
Find a printable version here

Down & Dirty

Dress Up Your Locker Rooms & Restrooms

By Richard Zowie

Alternatives to Metal

In the humid environment typical of most locker rooms—and especially those near a pool or in an aquatics facility—the typical metal lockers of the past tended to rust. Because of this, locker manufacturers have turned to new materials—plastics and coated metals—that can withstand some humidity.

Two recently built facilities were looking to solve just this problem—the humid environment—while also making sure that ease of maintenance didn't come at the expense of functionality. At the Tom Muehlenbeck Center, a recreation center in Plano, Texas, and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the idea was to find secure and vandal-proof lockers that could withstand some humidity. Heavy-duty plastic lockers were the answer.

The lockers chosen for the Tom Muehlenbeck Center have an aesthetic appeal that complements the center's design while featuring a sloped top that keeps people from stacking things up.

After trying out various samples, the facility went with lockers made out of a solid, high-density polyethylene. They found these solid-plastic lockers were a better alternative to metal lockers since they were unaffected by the chlorine, humidity or moisture commonly found in aquatic facilities. Metal lockers, for example, might be more prone to rust. Also, the plastic lockers are corrosion-proof and can be easily cleaned with soap and water.

Amy Fortenberry, recreational services manager for the facility, said in a report that they were confident the lockers "would perform well in securing items, they look good and they're easy to clean." She added, "The only challenge our maintenance staff has is water inside the lockers when they're cleaned with a pressure washer…we can handle that."

Moisture and humidity can certainly be a big issue at the Georgia Aquarium, a facility that holds more than 8 million gallons of water. Though not a fitness center, the aquarium has a need for lockers for those who work at the aquarium: employees at their break room, veterinary services, animal husbandry and dive operations.

Georgia Aquarium engineering and plant operations director Mike Hurst said that metal lockers weren't even considered due to the facility's humid environment.

"We have a corrosive environment," he explained. "I've seen metal lockers used in similar facilities—they don't hold up. We knew we didn't want to go that route."

Besides the normal aquatic conditions, plastic lockers work at the aquarium because they also can withstand salt water. Furthermore, with virtually no absorption rate, there's no concern of unpleasant odors penetrating the solid plastic surface of the locker.

Among the things aquarium officials liked about the lockers are their durability, as well as savings in terms of cost and, interestingly enough, the environment. The lockers withstand dents that can easily damage metal lockers. According to the manufacturer, ready-to-install plastic lockers can reduce installation costs by up to 50 percent. And if you think a plastic locker sounds environmentally-unfriendly, you might be very surprised indeed. The plastic lockers at the aquarium contain post-industrial recycled plastic. Manufacturers now offer lockers that are 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. In that case, each locker is estimated to prevent more than 500 gallon-size milk containers from going to a final resting place in a landfill and into a dreadfully-slow biodegradation process.

"The lockers have been fantastic," Hurst said. "We've had no issues and they're holding up well to a lot of use. In the diver's locker room, the lockers hold wet gear everyday and they're performing very well." He added that other than general housekeeping, the lockers have required no maintenance.

In addition to metal and plastic, wood is also a popular choice when installing lockers. Some like wood because, simply put, it's a more natural material. It also provides a warm, aesthetically pleasing appearance.

According to a Hillsboro, Ore.-based designer of wood and laminate lockers, the best way to determine the number of lockers for a facility is to estimate the largest number of members who will use the facility at any given time and then double that number to figure in the "swing factor" of those who come and go before and after peak usage. Other important factors include proper sizing of the locker room, adequate air exchange rates, traffic flow patterns, proper lighting and the types of materials used on the surfaces.