Feature Article - May 2010
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Behind the Scenes

Recreational Locker Rooms, Restrooms More Refined

By Kellye Whitney

orget those old grungy, basic locker rooms with rows of dented metal lockers and grotty, dank-smelling gang showers. A trend toward privacy and customer appeal is making today's recreational facilities look more like private clubs.

That is, sustainability has taken a firm hold on restrooms and locker rooms in public recreation facilities. Everything from the layout and planning of these areas to the design and appearance of the lights, sinks and floors, is increasingly built not only to promote durability, but to ensure patrons' satisfaction as they move from one corner of a building to another.

Design for Privacy and Beauty

Before, it was all about function and practicality. There was a men's and a women's locker room, with a central shower that everyone shared, and a row of utilitarian metal lockers that could be heard clanging raucously throughout the space. But a desire for peace and privacy has engendered a new construct. Called a cabana or transgender or family-style changing room, this larger, more spacious locker area typically has a toilet, sink, shower and a small area with a bench to facilitate changing clothes. The locker area is still housed in a common area, but is centrally located in between cabanas or adjacent to them.

"We're definitely getting away from the old gang showers where you've got a row of shower heads on the wall and no partitions. Central poles with four or five shower heads on them were pretty typical in men's locker rooms until about four or five years ago," said Robert McDonald, senior principal at Denver-based Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, a company that designs public and private facilities.

"Women's locker rooms were ahead of the game by starting to install partitions in the shower, but now both genders design them with privacy stalls," he said. "They can be thin partitions, but a trend is moving toward doing actual thick walls that are tiled and provide a nice finished solid surface. The partitions can be somewhat flimsy and a maintenance item over the life of the building."

Colleen McKenna, associate principal at architecture, engineering and interior design firm Cannon Design, said that in the past her firm only installed shower partitions in the women's area, but now they are a standard for men, too, as privacy is a big issue when facilities are trying to appeal to a diverse client base.

Being culturally sensitive often goes hand in hand with design considerations, as McDonald said more clients are gravitating toward the high-end fit and interior design finish of a private club as users request and become accustomed to a jazzier look than a typical recreation center might have provided in the past.