Feature Article - March 2019
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Creature Comforts

Ever-Evolving Locker Room Design

By Dave Ramont

Others that benefit from cabana-style designs include those with disabilities and transgender populations.

Some facilities are using cabanas in conjunction with separate gender-specific locker rooms, while others have found that a combination of cabanas and gender-specific restrooms can provide the privacy and function of the old-school locker rooms.

Larson described working with the city of Dearborn, Mich., which was replacing an existing community pool and saw an opportunity to explore options other than the traditional male and female locker rooms. "It was ultimately decided to provide individual changing rooms exclusively, with a large common locker area to store clothing and other valuables after having changed into bathing wear. This approach maximizes the ability for a young child to stay with his/her parent and to provide privacy for people uncomfortable with changing in sight of other patrons, whatever the reason."

Regarding efficiency, Harris discussed a project they undertook at Troy University in Troy, Ala. "We studied many solutions and compared the space requirements for this cabana style against the space requirements for dedicated gender-specific locker rooms. At first glance, it would seem that many small, dedicated spaces would take up more square footage. In fact the cabana-style layout takes up less space than the traditional locker rooms."

Indeed, the personal changing rooms with community locker spaces can meet the needs of a variety of users in a smaller footprint, and also allow for more design options. But as Kocher explained, the fixture counts can start to increase if you have many spaces with separate toilets, sinks and showers. "So they can get bigger from the plumbing side, a little bit more efficient on the locker room side."

Regarding floor layout, Harris believes the thought behind the sensitivities of the transgender population is very important, and said that many of the mistakes made in planning for these spaces relate to the entrance into the locker rooms. "At the University of Michigan, we had great discussion about this topic. In the renovation of their Intramural Sports Building we were able to accomplish a layout that allowed all patrons to enter a single suite of locker rooms from a main travel path, in which they are not forced to visually make a locker room selection until they were off the corridor."

Providing day-use lockers at various locations within a facility is diminishing the number of lockers necessary in the locker room. "These cubbies are often found in gymnasia, group exercise rooms and weight/cardio spaces. In the past, these cubbies or day-lockers have all been one size, sized for backpacks," said Harris. "Today we're seeing a desire for a variety of sizes, sized for wallets, phones, shoes and backpacks. Another component to these lockers is the desire to charge your phone or computer while it's being stored."

Finishes & Maintenance

When it comes to locker materials, there are many options, along with a myriad of colors, finishes and grades. Some are customizable. Metal lockers are cost-effective, though they're noisy and can rust, scratch and dent. Wood lockers—whether solid or veneer—offer the look of furniture. Plastic lockers are very popular these days, whether plastic laminate, phenolic (made from a plastic resin material) or HDPE (high-density polyethylene). All material options have pros and cons, and final selection comes down to desired aesthetics, facility type and size, wet or dry areas, who the users are and budget.

Cleaning and maintenance considerations are very important in the design phase. "Maintenance-sensitive design and the appropriate use of materials is key to the longevity and operational efficiency of recreation facilities," said Armstrong, adding that it's important to pay special attention to the design of areas that receive water. "Picking solid surfaces over plastic laminate at sink areas, for example. Or selecting the right bench product that can hold up to moisture over wood. Considerations for finishes that can withstand impact, are easy to clean and are visually forgiving are important."

Armstrong said they consider the staff who clean these spaces. "By selecting materials that can be easily maintained by 'green' cleaning products, not only do we assist in the health and wellness of the staff but the patron that follows."

Harris feels that many of the design features associated with cleaning and sanitation are simple things. "Some examples are wall-mounted, not floor-mounted, benches at the locker space, phenolic doors on the shower stalls in lieu of plastic curtains and removal of the entry doors, so that people are touching fewer surfaces while in the locker rooms. Other things would relate to finishes within the spaces," said Harris. "Using large format tile to minimize the amount of grout lines in the floor or walls is one way to accomplish this."

Indeed, flooring options are another major consideration. Smaller tiles, typically one-inch or two-inch square, used to be the norm, as they offered the greatest slip-resistance. But that means more grout joints than larger tile, so cleaning is harder. Using a darker-colored grout so that soiling is less apparent can be helpful. Kocher said lately they've gone to larger, more abrasive tiles, such as the nonslip porcelain tile pavers.

Other locker room floor choices include textured sheet vinyl flooring, sheet rubber flooring, poured-quartz epoxy flooring, carpet and carpet tiles. All options have pros and cons, and a venue's unique variables must be considered. "There's no perfect solution in terms of maintainability," says Kocher. "The poured synthetic floors generally work pretty well and the carpets have gotten better."

Locker room floor systems also need to be chemical-resistant to protect against damage from personal products like cologne, hair spray, topical medications or lotions, all of which can have high solvent or chemical content.