Feature Article - September 2011
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Last Things First

Trends in Restroom Structures

By Rick Dandes

Doing it Right in San Diego

Coakley, president of the American Restroom Association and Friends of La Jolla Shores explained how a project in La Jolla Shores, Calif., resulted in an award-winning restroom at City of San Diego Parks and Beaches. And it has set an example for restrooms nationwide.

La Jolla Shores is an ocean paradise attracting 2 to 3 million visitors a year. It is one of the city's most popular swimming and surfing beaches, as well as the premier dive site in San Diego, famous for its 900-foot-deep Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve. "The 1960s-era, gender-specific, public restroom serving the park users and beach goers," Coakley explained, "had far exceeded its carrying capacity and fallen into serious disrepair."

During the peak summer season females were forced to stand in seemingly endless lines for the women's restroom; a situation worsened by the fact that the majority preferred the privacy of the toilet stalls to change their clothes, rather than the large common area intended for that purpose. On the other hand, there was absolutely no wait for the men's restroom at anytime.

"One would have thought that replacing the restroom would have been a simple process," Coakley said. "Instead, it was extremely difficult, costly and took over eight years (March 1997 to July 2005) and three sets of approved plans."

The first Kellogg Park plan called for a 1,936-square-foot gender-specific restroom that was more than double the size of the existing 900-square-foot facility, increased the height from 8.5 feet to 14 feet, width from 36 feet to 44 feet, and length from 25 feet to 54 feet in a location where ocean views and parkland are extremely precious commodities. To make matters worse, the plans failed to adequately address the need for increased availability of stalls.

Coakley, and others in the community who were concerned with the shortcomings of the project, spearheaded what turned out to be a five-year effort to convince city officials to redesign the building.

It took years of research, but Coakley and her committee finally presented a floor plan to the city's Park and Recreation Department planning staff—a plan that incorporated unisex stalls accessed from the outside with sinks and showers on the exterior of the building, providing safe and easily accessible facilities that could be built for close to the $316,000 the city had left for the project.

The architect converted Coakley's design into architectural drawings and donated the plans. He felt that it was extremely important to design a building that would blend well with its surroundings. The result was a low-profile unisex facility, approximately one-third the size of the previously permitted plans that met and exceeded all the stipulations presented to him.

The design included two ADA/Family restrooms with diaper changing stations and 10 unisex toilet stalls all directly accessible from the outdoors, four outdoor sinks in alcoves and six (two ADA) outdoor showers (upper and foot) located on the beachside wall of the building along with a 112-square-foot storage area—all in approximately 650 square feet at 9 feet tall.

"In the end," Coakley said, "more than 45 businesses and professionals donated their expertise and/or services, building materials and supplies for free or at greatly discounted prices, and more than 50 community members and organizations, as well as beach lovers from all over San Diego, made generous donations to make the project a 'break even' for the contractor who built the restroom for no profit."

The new restroom opened ceremoniously with a "Royal Flush" in July 2005. Lines move quickly, families and people with disabilities are well served.