Feature Article - May 2013
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Comfort & Joy

Modernize Your Locker Room to Boost Satisfaction

By Rick Dandes

Quality on a Budget

From high-tech lock technology to luxurious lounge areas, whirlpools, Internet access and private showers and dressing areas, it's easy to sink a significant amount of money into creating the ultimate locker room --- if you have the budget. Such amenities can really pay off if you run a college facility looking for a recruiting edge or a high-end downtown city club specializing in luxury. But for most owners of smaller clubs and recreational facilities limited by budget or space, such a design might mean sacrificing fitness area equipment or program spaces.

The challenge is to achieve an upscale look no matter what your budget is. It is possible to design and build a quality space with an upscale feel on a tight budget. Health clubs even on the tightest of budgets shouldn't compromise on the features they really want in their locker rooms.

To achieve a nicer, higher end look, one of the first steps is to use modern materials.

"The issue of tight budgets is something we face all the time, especially in the recent economy," said David W. Larson, senior vice president, TMP Architecture Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Color is inexpensive, so he suggested providing a splash of color. Don't invest too heavily in permanent materials because the owner and patrons might get tired of a certain color. Painting the wall isn't that difficult and even refinishing some lockers can be attractive, using different colors. That is one way to really brighten up a space.

Having a cheerfully lit, bright space is a must, Larson said. Don't skimp on the light level in the locker room. "And, if you can create a ceiling height that is higher than a typical office setting, say, 10 feet for the ceiling rather than eight feet, that makes a big difference in how the space feels," he said. It feels like you are not in a basement, because more often than not locker rooms are positioned in a windowless space.

If there is an opportunity to get natural light into a locker room area, that is the best situation, he said. But many times the locker room is in the core of the building and that might not always be possible. Larson said there are new products on the market that use fiber optics, which can be wall-mounted, and throw what feels like daylight into a closed space. This is how it works: a fiber optic cable absorbs the sunlight from an outside panel and transfers that energy 40 to 50 feet to a spot on the inside of the building where that fiber optic energy connects to a reflector. The result is something akin to real daylight indoors. The advantage here is that although it might be $5,000 to $10,000 to initially install, each one of those units can light up six light fixtures, so it's cost-effective in the long term as well as psychologically pleasing.

Living in the Material World

The materials you choose for your lockers all have pros and cons. Metal lockers are secure, but they can dent and chip, and their price has risen in recent years, Shaffer said. Wood products, either solid or MDF laminate, are still popular because they are economical, but durability might be compromised. These lockers also can have break-in headaches and a shorter service life. Plastic (HDPE) is increasingly popular, durable and waterproof. Phenolic is the most expensive option but offers pleasing aesthetics, and good security and durability. It's strong, scratch resistant, waterproof and Shaffer feels it delivers the best return on investment.

Meanwhile, there are a number of new European phenolic designs available that are more affordable than the old solid-phenolic construction, added Finkernagel. "These materials come in a wide variety of colors and wood-look finishes providing for many applications." Private clubs use these materials, too, he noted, but they also use wood lockers, which can be customized and typically have electronic locks.

All of these new materials help with maintenance. Old, traditional metal lockers are beaten over time. With breakage comes replacement and with rust comes replacement, so if you don't have to worry about replacing parts, your cost of maintenance goes way down.