Feature Article - September 2014
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Stronger, Faster, Cheaper

The Pros of Prefab Restroom Structures

By Chris Gelbach

Putting Safety First

Many manufacturers are seeing a growing trend toward clients favoring unisex, single-stall designs that include some family restrooms, with more spacious facilities and baby-changing stations in the family restrooms. Single-stall designs are becoming particularly prominent in higher-risk environments.

"With a single-stall design, a woman can open the door. Look inside. See that nobody's in there. Go in there and close the door behind her and lock it. In really tough environments, the single-user design is now prevalent. Never multiple occupancy—never," Kaufman said.

Durable natural ventilation also is a safety priority. "You don't want people to be able to kneel down and look into the restroom nor do you want them to be able to kick the vent out. So, it needs to be very rugged," Tharpe said.

The natural ventilation enhances air quality in the structure while providing added safety for the user. "On the outside, you can hear what's going on on the inside," Kaufman said. "That's not true of regular site-built buildings. They're like bunkers."

When Tharpe sees parks opt for more traditional multi-user layouts, he said more clients include a chase between the male and female sides with translucent panels installed near the ceiling so that there are no reachable fixtures to be damaged or bulbs to be broken. "In plumbed and wired restrooms, we are also seeing the conduit more often being built into the thickness of the wall itself as opposed to surface mounted," Tharpe said.

Another safety feature growing in popularity is the use of magnetic door-lock systems that can open and close the restroom structures at designated times. This also alleviates the need for staff to be there to open and close the buildings. Motion-activated lights also are an inexpensive yet helpful option for many facilities.

According to Kaufman, external security cameras still are a safety option that is much discussed but seldom implemented. He estimates that his company installs continuous-monitor outside cameras at one at of 100 buildings for park clients.

Resisting Vandalism

While not all manufacturers opt for the same materials, they all provide features and construction designed with an eye to maximizing vandal resistance. "We're building the inevitable brick you-know-what house," Kaufman said. "They're pretty stout. You can't damage them. They don't burn. All you can do is graffiti them."

Some companies still offer anti-graffiti coatings, but their effectiveness is a matter of some dispute. "Anti-graffiti used to be huge," Kaufman said. "It is absolutely dead. In the past, everybody had a new graffiti product. None of them worked. And none of them work today." Instead, many park facilities opt to just limit the potential for graffiti to the front of the building by landscaping the other three sides, and painting over graffiti on the front of the building when it occurs.

Prison-grade stainless steel toilets and sinks are an option for those who prefer maximal vandal-resistance, but some clients still opt for vitreous china because of its lower costs. "Some clients won't do anything but stainless," said Burger. "I've got others who have serious, serious vandalism and they won't do anything but vitreous. They have people who can go change these out quickly and the vitreous is considerably cheaper. Their feeling is if they can break the vitreous, they can probably damage the stainless. I've stopped trying upselling or downselling on either one of them."

Likewise, vandal-resistant light fixtures, windows, doors and handles can help parks limit the amount of time they'll have to spend maintaining the building. Burger also has moved away from using paper towels for the same reason. "In public restrooms, the garbage is always full unless somebody is there dumping that garbage once a day."

Toilet partitions are another feature that tends to require significant maintenance costs. "The traditional toilet-stall partitions you have in office buildings don't come into parks anymore," said Kaufman. "They don't hold up." Instead, his company has moved to concrete block partitions. "It's just like a wall. You can't destroy it."