Feature Article - September 2014
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Stronger, Faster, Cheaper

The Pros of Prefab Restroom Structures

By Chris Gelbach

Controlling the Construction

One factor that can complicate traditional stick-built onsite construction is the unpredictability of weather and temperature. According to Kaufman, the makers of prefabricated buildings now are able to incorporate technologies in prefabricated structures that they never could if building on site.

"The in-plant controlled environment affects curing of some of these materials," Kaufman said. "We develop our non-absorbent concrete slabs to resist water for life. A variance in 10 degrees in temperature during curing can turn the slab surface to white powder that once started does not stop. Holding a 10-degree variance is impossible on site."

Concrete still requires time to cure in the plant, but the process can be hastened through the application of heat. And because the construction process is not subject to the elements, the buildings can be installed any time of year. This is attractive to parks that want to install a restroom in the winter to be ready for park patrons in the spring. "I literally install buildings in the middle of winter all over America if the foundations are put in in the fall," Kaufman said.

Likewise, the specialization that results from in-plant production may lead to more consistent construction because the same person working on restroom structure doors today in the plant will be working on them tomorrow. "Unless you have a signature park that demands a signature architectural design," Burger said, "you'll almost always get better results from a premanufactured building over a site-built one."

Building the structure in the plant reduces the amount of space required on site for construction purposes. It additionally lessens the liability concerns that come from having construction materials on site for an extended period that could serve as an attractive nuisance for children.

Structure Options

As more manufacturers of prefabricated structures continue to enter the market, and others continue to refine their products, they are offering a wider range of options suitable for a growing range of park applications.

Some companies offer designs with a limited number of standard architectural styles and floor plans that are cost-effective without allowing for customization. Others specialize in custom buildings that can be tailored to the specific environment. "If it's supposed to look like a California Mission, it looks like a California Mission," Kaufman said. "If it's supposed to look like it's in the middle of Egypt, it does. New England has horizontal clapboard. In the South, it's mostly brick. In Texas, it's Southwest architecture. We just blend in with the surrounding community architecture."

Such options include possibilities for dry or wet restrooms as well as different colors, textures, finishes and rooflines that can be done totally precast. Manufacturers are also seeing more requests for multi-room restroom structures that include such amenities as showers, storage areas, concession stands and shade structures.

According to Burger, many parks put off building restrooms because of cost considerations, even though restroom facilities are important to visitors and enhance their park experience considerably. "But when they finally do it, they end up getting too big of a building," he said. "They get a huge multi-user building, when they would have been fine getting a structure with a couple of family assist rooms."

To prevent this issue, Burger recommends that parks always keep in mind the fact that many premanufactured structures are designed so that they can be moved later. "If you start with a small one and then you add some ball parks or you have more visitors, you can pull it out and take it to another park later and put in another bigger restroom," Burger said. "We move some buildings like that every year."