Feature Article - September 2009
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Designed For Use-and Abuse

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Emily Tipping


Another benefit of these durable structures is their ability to reduce maintenance, and in these times of cost-cutting and budget-crunching, you're surely looking to save any dollar you can. Reducing the need for maintenance will go a long way toward saving your long-term budget and reducing the life-cycle cost of your restrooms.

For example, painted floors rather than raw concrete will be much easier to clean, a benefit Aller cited about the city of Clovis' new restroom structures. With raw concrete, he said, "things soak in and you have to use an enzyme to get that out. It helps to have a good painted surface."

Ultimately, maintenance should be one of your top considerations up front. If you install restroom facilities in your park without also considering the need for maintenance up front, you could end up with filthy, broken-down facilities that will leave a very bad impression on your users.

In San Francisco, the Restroom Task Force looked at design standards to help ease maintenance, and came up with a list that also includes suggested maintenance resources up front.

For example, in terms of cleanliness and a pleasant appearance, the task force recommended using smooth, durable, nonslip surfaces that are easily sanitized and graffiti-resistant. When it comes to functionality, the task force recommended water-conserving toilets and urinals and vandal-resistant fixtures. To ensure things stay clean, attractive and functional, the task force further recommended having the proper supplies in place, as well as a regular schedule for custodial service based on site usage, demand and abuse, with a minimum of twice-daily cleaning suggested.

Odor and waste management were also key considerations for the task force, which suggested ensuring proper ventilation as well as non-porous surfaces to reduce the ability of odor to "sink in" and waste collection areas large enough to meet the site's needs.

Another solution that's becoming popular to help save staff time—and agency dollars—is automatic mechanisms to lock and unlock the doors. In San Francisco, the taskforce recommended adding these mechanisms where they're appropriate.

"Due to security concerns, it is possible that some restrooms cannot be opened unsupervised," the report states. "Operations staff would like to inspect certain restrooms before opening to ensure that nothing occurred overnight to impact their use the following day. However, sites which could be opened automatically would provide more efficient use of custodial time."

In the city of Clovis, automatic locking mechanisms help ensure vandalism does not occur in the dark of night when the parks are closed. "They lock them at 10 p.m. at night and open at 7 a.m.," Aller said. "That way we don't have to worry about vandalism taking place in there in the middle of the night."

What happens if a citizen goes in to use the park's restroom at 9:59 p.m.?

"If someone's in there and the doors lock, it has a button to release that lock," Aller added. "And if the power goes out, it has a battery backup to open the doors on schedule."