Feature Article - September 2013
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Give It a Rest

The Right Restroom Design for Your Recreational Needs

By Kelli Ra Anderson


Of course, quick turnaround time isn't just good for tight schedules to accommodate the breeding season of an endangered species. Time is money, and when a restroom structure can arrive ready-made, it greatly reduces the costs associated with construction, design and planning. "You don't have a construction crew out there for months," Spencer said of a selling point for his city. "They want to know where the money is going, and if you can save $10,000 on the design side to put into a play structure, a city's in favor of that."

It also doesn't hurt that many concrete prefab structures are built like WWII bunkers.

"There are a couple of big items we look for, and one is that a restroom is bulletproof. Literally." Delzell said of their recent restroom purchase. "Some restrooms go out into our hunting areas and shooting ranges in places where they don't have a lot of supervision. They are also in low-lying areas prone to floods but with concrete, you don't have to worry about rotting. People are just hard on them in general, so heavy duty is what we look for."

Another advantage of buying ready-made structures is that the continuity of a standard structure makes ordering easier, contributes to the brand of the park (keeping colors and building materials uniform) and makes maintenance, repairs and upgrades easier for staff to deal with.

Creature Comforts

But whether your structure is prefab or a stick-built/ground-up, a flush toilet or composting toilet or a vault toilet, there are certain characteristics they should all possess whenever possible.

The bottom line for every user is comfort. No one wants to have an unpleasant experience in a public restroom, but how many of us have unfortunately experienced the stuff of nightmares—a dark restroom filled with insects and in desperate need of good air freshener. Although comfort and cost are, thankfully, not mutually exclusive, comfortable functionality does require some thought.

In the best of all worlds, good insulation, heating and cooling to keep restroom temperatures temperate, is something every user appreciates. However, even if a restroom doesn't have A/C, for example, a shady location can keep inside temperatures a little more tolerable, and providing a shaded area for women and children to wait outside when it's busy will make the wait a little more bearable.

Little details, like having plenty of hooks and benches inside bathroom and shower stalls, can also make a big difference. These details not only improve the patron's experience, but some amenities can even improve program participation like adding a bulletin board to inform patrons about what is going on—hikes, talks or other programs—as people wait their turns outside the restroom.

Even if a structure is ready-made but lacks some of these amenities, it's not too hard to add them, and definitely a good idea. "Sometimes we go in and add hardware like metal shelving or hooks to make them work better. When you have no place to set your dry things, it's a problem," said David, who is a big believer in making sure patrons have a place to put bags and dry clothes to help make showering easier, and who is mindful of the challenges faced by a parent with young children who may need a helping hand when theirs are often full.

David even pays attention to the kind of faucets they install, preferring mixed faucet valves, so that children are less likely to be scalded when washing their hands.

Some elements, however, are big enough that no one should overlook them. "We take a look into how a restroom is going to be used and get feedback from park users on what designs keep their clothes dry or if it's really working or if floors drain properly," Delzell said. "That's a big thing. In actual practice, it's hard to get the floor to drain, but not so steep that it's not ADA accessible."