Feature Article - May 2011
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Suit Yourself

Locker Rooms to Fit Your Facility

By Jessica Royer Ocken



Case Study
Tom Muehlenbeck Center
Plano, Texas

In 2007, the city of Plano, Texas, worked with Brinkley Sargent Architects on a new 82,000-square-foot recreation center that features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a gymnasium, a weight room, a cardio room, a track, a group exercise area, a game room, a preschool area, multipurpose classrooms and locker rooms. Since it opened in November 2007, it's been visited by more than 600,000 people each year.

"Locker rooms are often targets for 'value engineering' to bring cost estimates in line with the construction budget," noted Amy Fortenberry, director of Plano Parks and Recreation. "While they're easy reduction targets, the outcome of a poorly functioning locker room is huge." Plano opted not to skimp on locker rooms at the Muehlenbeck Center, and they've been pleased with the results.

The parks department knew public input would be crucial to their design process, so they conducted focus groups, as well as drawing on previous experiences. "The heavy use of our swimming facilities creates periods of heavy traffic in the locker rooms," Fortenberry explained. "On a prior project we had asked for mirrors and shelves to go along a whole wall in the locker room with outlets to allow for hair dryers and curling irons to be plugged in. What we didn't say is that we wanted the power to be available for every outlet to be used simultaneously. As a result, the plans looked good, but when we opened and the swim team was getting ready to go to school in the morning, the breakers kept tripping. It's important to articulate exactly what you want and why you want it so the plans can be designed to fully accommodate the use," she said. At the Muehlenbeck Center, all the swimmers can blow dry at once with no problem.

The parks department also learned that time and convenience are valued by their customers, so they incorporated "express lockers" into the new center. These "allow people to lock up their car keys and wallet without going into the locker rooms," Fortenberry said. "For those who want to shower or lock up [larger] items, we have plenty of large, deep lockers. Each shower has an area for drying off with benches and hooks to keep bags and clothes off the floor and dry."

Although men's showers had traditionally been designed as "gang" showers, discussions with potential users of the Muehlenbeck Center revealed that men felt strongly about having individual, private showers. Locker areas also include family changing rooms, which Fortenberry described as "a must for any facility."

From a behind-the-scenes perspective, Fortenberry said that "storage closets for paper products, trash liners, disinfectant and mops need to be located near the locker rooms. Keyed water outlets should be designed for quick and efficient cleaning in between groups," she added. She also urged planners to pay attention to the dimensions of lockers and even do some testing with various bags to be sure they'll fit. "Lockers are all made differently, so make sure the one you select will actually lock and secure your guests' items," she said. "One brand of lockers we purchased only worked with an odd size of lock that most people didn't carry with them… If your customers are bringing their own locks, make sure the mechanism is universal and will accommodate a wide variety."

Finally, she noted that all public restrooms must be designed to withstand vandalism and stay in good shape for years. "We want them to be easy to clean and care for and durable," she said. "Durable and tough does not have to mean they look institutional." During the selection process, Fortenberry had her employees "test" materials by attempting to destroy them. "Some items scratch and look terrible, while others have color that permeates throughout the product. A little extra time selecting good materials will pay off in reducing your maintenance efforts and costs down the road."