Feature Article - September 2011
Find a printable version here

Last Things First

Trends in Restroom Structures

By Rick Dandes

Don't Overlook This

Certainly, cost is a factor that any jurisdictional manager or government official shouldn't overlook—and they generally don't, given their budgetary restraints.

But there are other factors that are quite commonly overlooked, such as: Will the restroom create a public safety issue? How many fixtures are needed? What is the maintenance and life cycle likely to be? How can we make sure these restrooms don't smell bad? Are there adequate sewer, water and electrical utilities to service the restroom? Is there adequate truck and crane access to the restroom site? How much time is needed for the workflow process? Has the design accounted for the need for family restrooms and places to change diapers?

Then, some basic environmental factors such as ventilation, lighting, rainwater catching should be researched.

And don't forget maintenance issues such as scheduling annual painting, annual repairs, replacing fixtures every five to seven years and replacing the building every 20 to 30 years.

Benefits and Costs

Many park agencies, Kaufman said, have banked some of the developer fees and other revenue they collected during the boom years and they are spending those funds building new parks at 50 percent of what those same parks cost in 2008. Federal funds issued for "shovel ready projects" are also being used in current development. Still other park projects are being constructed with corporate donations, lottery funds, special bond funds or donor funds with emphasis on meeting political demands for services.

During the boom years, Kaufman continued, many park agencies did not pay attention to the quality of construction of restroom materials, and they often focused on either low-cost construction or low-cost design. The premise that a restroom is just a restroom was the characterization of the times, so many poorer quality park restroom buildings were constructed that are now causing a maintenance nightmare for underfunded park maintenance budgets. The crises is yet to come as the backlog of existing maintenance bandaids increase and new construction projects come on line to further stretch park maintenance staffs and available budgets.

A restroom is complicated and expensive. It usually includes all the building trades: site work, utilities, plumbing, electrical, concrete, masonry, doors, windows, hardware, metals, painting, roofing, signs, fire protection, accessories and specialties, plus building permits and building inspections. So it's imperative that you carefully plan the design to address all the issues.

When calculating the total cost of a restroom, think of it as like owning a car, William Fee suggested. "Capital cost, plus maintenance cost, plus cost of utilities, plus replacement cost equals total cost."

There are ways to reduce cost, Fee added. "You can buy a pre-fabricated design and save on the cost of hiring a designer. You can build a smaller structure. Or have people pay to use them."

A pre-engineered building, for example, can actually be moved. It can be moved on site or reused at another site. Its transportability could help with the phased development of a project. And save on costs.