Feature Article - September 2012
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Safe, Accessible, Durable & Green

The Latest Trends in Restroom Structures

By Chris Gelbach

"These camera systems really work—they can see in the dark. They're infrared and keep rolling on a 24-hour cycle," said Kaufman. "So if something occurs at night, they go back and reverse the camera, view the data and make a decision on how to proceed to fix it. It's a great trend, and it's really curtailing and reducing the magnitude of the problem." In the case of vandalism, that means police tracking down the parents of the vandal and getting them to pay for repairing the damage.

Another technology-driven safety trend is the management of the securing of the building. In the past, park staff would have to go out and lock the restrooms at night, or in some cities leave them open 24/7. Today, according to Kaufman, the trend is to use magnetic door locks that close on a time clock, thereby automatically locking and opening the doors at preset times in the morning and evening.

"They're the most secure means of maintaining security in the building," he said. Should someone get trapped inside, they can easily get out by pushing an exit button that opens the door for 30 seconds before re-energizing the magnet.

Facilities that wish to retain a half-men's, half-women's design but want to increase the safety of the space can do so by forgoing or modifying the traditional L-shaped screens in front of the doors in which attackers can hide. Their elimination also makes life easier for maintenance staff. "They become outdoor bathrooms when the building is locked," said Kaufman, "and the maintenance people hate it. We're redesigning our interiors with more interior sight screens than exterior sight screens so we don't have that issue."

Jeremy Smith, deputy director of a precast restroom licensing company based in Midland, Va., noted that his company doesn't use screen walls often. When they do, they add a safety feature. "Instead of that wall being solid, we have an open area cut into it at the bottom so somebody can't stand behind there and hide behind it waiting for you to pop around the corner," he said.

Other features that can enhance the safety of semi-private bathroom areas can include strong lighting, opaque windows that allow more light to shine in while maintaining privacy, and the liberal use of vents so that someone in distress can be heard from outside the building.

Access for All

ADA requirements have resulted in restroom structures that typically have features such as levers for entry and sinks, mirrors, toilets, toilet paper holders, towel dispensers and more at designated heights to maximize accessibility. But adherence to these standards alone does not ensure that a restroom is truly accessible to all patrons.

Coakley notes that even those with the best of intentions are sometimes rubber-stamping projects that are not fully accessible. "They're approving projects that are half men and half women where they're able to get two disabled stalls in each side, but what they don't realize is that if a husband has a wife with a disability who needs help, they can't use that restroom," she said. "Opposite-sex caregivers can't use that facility. If you're going to build a restroom, it should start with an ADA family stall, so at least you provide accessibility to everybody."

This can be achieved through an individual-stall design that includes ADA family stalls as a proportion of the stalls, or by adding a separate ADA family restroom in a half-men's, half-women's facility. "It does increase the cost of the restroom, but we're seeing more people do it, and we do it whenever the customer allows," Kaufman said.

The issue of "potty parity" is also something that is being increasingly addressed in the design of new restrooms to alleviate the common sight of huge lines at women's restrooms on busy days, even as traffic in the men's facilities remains light. Some states are addressing this issue through laws requiring either a 1:1, 3:2, or 2:1 ratio of women's to men's restroom fixtures. At the facility level, some parks are also achieving equal waiting times by using individual-stall layouts featuring unisex stalls.