Feature Article - March 2017
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Attention to Detail

The Ongoing Evolution of the Locker Room

By Joe Bush

A Locker Room Update

Howard Taylor is the director of recreational sports at Purdue University, and oversees operation of the school's France A. Cordova Recreational Sports Center. The facility expanded by 50 percent in 2012 to approximately 355,000 square feet, including upgrades like climbing and bouldering walls, LEED materials and systems, a gymnasium, indoor track, recreation pool and spaces for health and wellness programs staffed by Purdue employees and students.

Locker room space also got a 50 percent boost, with many updated features. Taylor, who had been a part of a rec center opening in his time at Wichita State University, said the original locker rooms were built in 1957, when Purdue's enrollment was a quarter of its present number. Not only are there more students and staff to accommodate now, Taylor said, there's a new century's consumer demand for safety, comfort and convenience in locker rooms.

"Our locker rooms were 1950s, 1960s vintage," he said. "They were in need of a serious facelift. We were trying to make the locker spaces nicer, but we also knew to accomplish all the other goals we had we couldn't go to the level of the high-end country club style. We kind of walked a middle ground to maximize the amount of space we had for lockers and showers, to make them much nicer than they were but not over-the-top nice."

Private shower stalls replaced the group setting, and because the locker rooms are now so large, there are three separate shower and restroom facilities, and in each of those there are either five or six shower units and next to it a restroom area with adjacent grooming stations.

"We did that so that depending on where your locker was, you'd have an easy access to get to a shower or a restroom area," Taylor said. "We also designated one of those sections as a faculty and staff area partly to support the number of faculty and staff users we have and to give them a little bit more privacy for those that might not want to be in the general area."

Tile covers the floors and walls in wet areas and carpeting in dry. Taylor said that anti-microbial carpeting makes for a little softer environment and helps mute noise but must be taken care of because it ages quickly.

The facility is certified LEED Gold, so the showerheads are low flow to meet the LEED criteria but also provide customer satisfaction. For branding, stainless steel sinks have embossed Purdue logos, as do some water fountains.

"It kind of lets everybody know you're at Purdue, but it does it in a classier way than just splashing our school colors everywhere," Taylor said.

Granite countertops adorn the grooming areas, and there is a sauna in each locker area. Taylor said higher-end metal lockers—full and half, no boxes—with heavy-duty padlocks got the nod, with benches closer to the lockers leaving space down the middle. Digital displays run some marketing messages and a news channel.

Taylor said he had been told during planning to allow for the trend of users arriving already changed, and leaving without showering, thus altering locker room use, but he discovered something about human behavior after the upgrades.

"We get a lot of users that do that, but one of the things that we found is that once we had nicer locker rooms, more people wanted to use the locker rooms than previously wanted to use them," said Taylor.

Taylor said if he were to have a do-over he would add women's grooming stations and reconfigure the flow among shower, locker and grooming area.

"We have had some of the women complain to us that even though we have the three areas where they can go and shower and use restrooms, some of them feel like they would rather have the showers closer to their lockers," he said. "This would have been a greater cost, but we should have dispersed them more than we did."

Locker Room Priorities

Taylor said no matter the size or expense of amenities, there are baseline philosophies to locker room design and operation:

  • Cleaning and maintenance should be factored into choices of space and materials. Design cleaning supply and equipment space inside each locker area, and schedule regular touch-up cleaning during the day with thorough cleaning overnight. "A facility is judged by how nice the restrooms and locker rooms are," Taylor said. "You need to stay on top of that. When you have them looking nice and care for them, I think people care for them more."
  • Air flow. Balancing the need for air turnover necessary to remove moisture but not feel like a breeze for users who are wet from the pool or shower. "There's got to be a great relationship between the architect and the engineers to get that right," Taylor said.

For Jill Schladweiler, aquatics director for the Estes Valley (Colo.) Recreation and Parks District, safety was the top priority when she provided input for the locker room renovation that will come with a new community center that will adjoin her pool facility. Set for a January 2018 finish, the construction allowed Schladweiler to fight for better floor surfacing.

Her facility is the only recreational pool in town and so serves not only the area's high number of older folks, but the needs of children for play and lessons and camps and competition.

The original surface was tile, which is fine, but it was 1 foot by 1 foot, which is not. The larger space means more slippery-when-wet surface when what's needed is smaller squares with more grout and texture for grip. Schladweiler had lessened the risk with mats and grip strips but that extra expense is unnecessary with the proper flooring that will be a part of the remodeled locker rooms.

"I was kind of a stickler on locker rooms," said Schladweiler. "That's pretty much all I said for the first two months of meetings, 'If we're doing anything we're going to get rid of the tile.' It's really pretty, but it's not appropriate. We're replacing it with 1-by-1 small square tiles and similar color with mosaic patterns."

Schladweiler also has some tips for those with an older demographic: stall doors that open outward to make movement in the stall easier, as well as wide locker benches for ease of dressing and putting on shoes.

"We tried to do little things like that to make sure everybody's accounted for," she said.