Feature Article - September 2009
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Designed For Use-and Abuse

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Emily Tipping

Do It Yourself or Let Someone Do It for You?

In 2001, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in Illinois undertook a large capital development project that involved site improvements throughout the county. One part of that campaign involved creating a prototypical design for flush washroom structures to be added throughout the county's forest preserves. The design will also be a standard for future projects.

Ultimately, forest preserve staff worked for six months with Patrick Engineering of Lisle, Ill., to develop a low-maintenance structure that combines modern materials with a rustic look. The design was inspired by the prairie style with horizontal lines, extended overhangs and other elements in earth-tone colors. The first structures are already in place at several preserves around the county.

For an agency the size of the Forest Preserve District, with many locations to place restrooms, designing a structure from scratch is one way to meet all of the needs of the various sites. But if time is of the essence, if your budget cannot accommodate such intricate plans, and if you want a simple solution that will be easy to maintain, a prefabricated restroom facility might just fit the bill.

Another benefit of going with a prefabricated structure, according to Gary Burger, national sales manager of a manufacturer of concrete restroom structures, is quality control. "You have the ability in a plant to control the quality with inspections, whereas at a site, you don't know what kind of quality you'll get—it depends on the contractor and how things are going that day."

With a prefabricated structure, standardized manufacturing processes help ensure that it's done the same way every time, so even when you add a customized look and feel to your facility, the manufacturer is applying the same processes, and the same checks on quality, that ensure the end result adheres to standards.

Cost is another major consideration when installing restroom structures, and in the current economic climate, when budget shortfalls have been forcing some municipalities and other organizations to close down their restrooms entirely, this is not an element to overlook.

Eric Aller, parks manager for the City of Clovis, said the city recently switched from building its own structures to purchasing precast concrete structures, and a large part of what drove that decision was cost. "We were building our restrooms out of cinder block from the ground up, and they were costing over $300,000," he said. "And we weren't getting any additional features for that money that these new restrooms do offer. So we saw these … and thought we would check them out."

Overall, he said they've been very pleased with the purchase. "The rooms are big. The plumbing is adequate. They look good," Aller said. "We're happy with them."

And in addition to saving money, prefabricated structures will save a lot of time. Burger said a factory-built restroom structure can be delivered to your site and erected the same day. "A site-built structure, on the other hand, can take several weeks or even months," he added.

Aller agreed with this assessment, adding that the restroom structures in Clovis were put in in about a day and were up and running within about a week. "The truck delivers it, and it has a big crane to put it in," he said. "You have to create a pad for it and pull the plumbing up based on their (the manufacturer's) blueprint. It takes a few days to hook it all up and make sure it's working."

Alex Rachak, former president of a Colorado-based manufacturer of prefabricated public restrooms, agreed that going with prefabricated restrooms can save a lot of time. "We can build it and ship it to the site and install it in a few days or a week or two, depending on the size of the project," he said. "Building it on site may take three months or more."

So once you've made the decision to save time and money by going with a prefabricated structure, what are some of the things you should consider? The top considerations these days include durability and ease of maintenance, in addition to considerations about going green and finding exactly the right solution for your site, whether that means customizing the restrooms' look to fit in or finding the right waste-disposal system for a site that's far off the grid.