Feature Article - March 2014
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No Longer a Plain Jane

Locker Room Design Boasts Creature Comforts, Technology

By Deborah L. Vence

The quintessential locker room has evolved from a simple, no-frills changing area into nearly a spa-like environment for relaxing and unwinding after a tough workout—with whirlpools, saunas, technological capabilities and other handy amenities at your fingertips.

"Locker rooms can be more than just a place to change from your work clothes to your workout clothes, and many owners are capitalizing on that. It's one of the most expensive places to build within a facility, so it needs to be done right," said Robert McDonald, a senior principal with Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an international architecture firm based in Denver. "We're seeing features such as lounges, televisions, grooming stations and personal care products being provided as a way to entice the members to use the locker rooms to their full capability."

Locker room design in recreation facilities, fitness centers, as well as colleges and universities continue to make advancements, incorporating the latest and greatest features to offer a place of comfort and relaxation to patrons.

Special Requirements

As recreation centers continue to evolve functionally and aesthetically so, too, have locker rooms.

"Architects often look at locker facilities that were designed in the '70s and '80s and wonder how anyone could ever design such spaces," said Reed Voorhees, AIA, LEED AP, vice president of Cannon Design, a full-service architecture, engineering and interior design firm that specializes in healthcare, education and corporate commercial facilities.

The quintessential locker room has evolved from a simple, no-frills changing area into nearly a spa-like environment for relaxing and unwinding after a tough workout

"Greater attention is being given to the quality of locker, toilet and shower rooms as users (ranging from the general public to college students and varsity athletes) continue to demand nicer facilities, and operators become more aware of improving the user's experience in all aspects of facility planning and design," he said.

With the demand for nicer facilities come different needs in locker rooms as well, depending on the type of facility you're dealing with.

For example, "For locker rooms that serve both a gym/fitness center as well as a pool, it's wise to separate wet vs. dry areas in the locker room," said Dave Larson, AIA, senior vice president and director of design, TMP Architecture Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Although square footage is often at a premium, this separation for pool guests allows gymnasium users to set down bags on a dry floor or bench, while the pool patrons use the wet portion of the locker room with different flooring and waterproof finishes."

For example, the new L.A. Fitness Signature Club in Birmingham, Mich., has an area before the main entry to the locker rooms for drying off. This minimizes wet floors and benches in the locker area.

For indoor aquatics, "the environment is always wet, so the finishes have to be durable and easily cleanable, and stand up to cleaning agents," said Stephen Springs, principal, AIA, LEED AP, Brinkley Sargent Architects, a Dallas-based company that specializes in public architecture.

"You don't want to use metal lockers. They will rust and be awful. Plastic or phenolic plastic are corrosion-proof. The difference between the two is cost. Plastic is cheaper. Phenolic is more expensive. Both are resistant to corrosion. With plastic lockers you have less choice in colors, too. Phenolics have more choice in color and finish," he said.

Meanwhile, stand-alone, municipal outdoor aquatic facilities often have very modest locker room facilities, if any.

"A small number of lockers are sometimes provided within a bathhouse, but because patrons generally keep their belongings with them, facility operators generally prefer to have only a small number of lockers accessible from the pool deck for storage of valuables," Voorhees said.

"In addition to the required toilets and showers, it is beneficial to provide patrons with a number of changing rooms inside the bathhouse. For locker rooms serving indoor or outdoor pools, it is important to provide ample floor drains throughout for ease of cleaning and to prevent any possibility of standing water on the floors," Voorhees said. "Phenolic lockers are also more suitable in 'wet' locker rooms as the material is much more capable of withstanding the wet environment. Be careful to avoid cheaper grade phenolic products that qualify their resistance to damp environments."