Feature Article - May 2010
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Behind the Scenes

Recreational Locker Rooms, Restrooms More Refined

By Kellye Whitney

As far as the finishes and the quality of the space goes, colorful or patterned ceramic or porcelain tiles are more common, as are solid surface countertops.

"Some locker rooms will have really nice vanity counters and places to put the towels," McKenna said. "Occasionally, you'll see carpet in the locker room area, but that really depends on whether you have aquatics or not. You may see some of the amenities include hair dryers, and not the big clunky ones that are attached to the wall that you stick your head underneath, but actual physical hand dryers that you'd see in a hotel that are basically attached to the wall. It reminds me more almost of a hotel experience to some degree."

The use of uplighting also is more popular where inexpensive fixtures are installed on top of lockers to illuminate the ceiling and provide a more airy feeling without the direct glare of overhead fixtures.

"There used to be fluorescent lights that were very yellow, very utilitarian and gave this kind of orangey cast," McKenna said. "Now, you have better quality fixtures, better quality lighting in the actual toilet rooms, and interesting lighting is more common as products have improved. For example, around each mirror you might have five uplights instead of the single fluorescent down light."

In addition to lighting and plumbing fixtures, lockers are more attractive. McDonald said that everyone likes the look of natural wood, but they're very expensive and only the highest end clubs can afford to put them in. The next alternative—which he said 75 percent of his clients use—is called a phenolic panel, which has the appearance of wood, is durable and affordable. Phenolic panels, which come in a range of colors, have a plastic laminate face that is bonded to a solid plastic resin core.

The type of locks used on lockers also is a huge decision for a facility owner, McDonald said. Patrons can bring their own locks, but if they leave them behind maintenance will have to cut the locks off every night. Coin-operated locks can be a source of revenue, but they're not very user-friendly, and they're also a maintenance item when locking mechanisms need replacing, keys are lost and staff need to provide change. Token-operated locks have similar issues. Electronic locks, though expensive, are easy to use and low maintenance, despite their batteries, which need to be changed every few months.

Cost isn't the only concern when building or renovating a locker room. Convenience is also important. For patrons who come dressed to work out and bypass the locker room altogether, the use of express lockers—lockers placed outside the locker room to store coats, purses and other belongings—is increasingly common.

"It's also important to provide some convenience toilets on the fitness floor so people don't have to go all the way to the main locker room to use the bathroom," McDonald said. "And if you've got multiple levels or floors you need convenience toilets on each level. If you've got any kind of public space, say a community meeting room, a teen center or a game room, you need to provide toilet facilities that are beyond your control point."

McDonald said his firm is actually seeing an overall trend of downsizing the number of lockers because more people coming to facilities are already dressed to work out.

"If you provide a warm, inviting and comfortable [locker area] experience, you will have lots of people use it and that will be a major selling point to marketing your facility," McDonald said.