Feature Article - October 2020
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(Rest)room for Improvement

Adding or Upgrading Restroom Facilities to Meet Visitor Expectations

By Dave Ramont


Parks are always looking for ways to attract visitors and keep them onsite. And whether a site offers recreation, fitness or entertainment opportunities, or simply respite and relaxation, one common denominator that can have a major impact when it comes to drawing visitors and keeping them around longer is the restroom. In fact, sub-par restroom facilities—or offering no restrooms at all—is a top complaint among park users.

Mount St. Mary Park sits along the Fox River in St. Charles, Ill. The 30-acre park features a playground, picnic pavilion, basketball and tennis courts, a skatepark and a 1.7-mile paved loop that connects to other trail systems, bringing a lot of bicyclists, walkers and runners through the park. For years the park offered outdated vault toilet options—one each for men and women—even though the park had access to sewer and water hookups. In April 2019, construction started on a new restroom facility, and when it opened in October of last year, the park district's Facebook page shared comments from satisfied park users. "I'm so impressed with the new restroom—such a great improvement! I have a toddler so any parks that have a restroom close are on the top of our list," read one post from a happy patron. One post simply said, "Yay!"

Construction of the restroom was contracted out, with interim design reviews performed by park staff. The structure sits on a slab and features a lap siding and cultured stone exterior, standing-seam metal roof and stainless-steel fixtures. There are three separate facilities within the structure—men's, women's and family/gender-neutral, with a maintenance/storage closet included. The family restroom is winterized and heated for year-round use, marking the first time that a freestanding flushable restroom will be open all year in the park system.

In 2016, a community survey in St. Charles showed that nearly two-thirds of district residents expressed a need for outdoor flushable toilets at the site, mostly coming from women with two-plus children in their household. That need was included in the development of the district's 2018 Comprehensive Master Plan, with capital improvement funds allocated to design, engineer, bid and construct the restrooms in the first year of the five-year action plan.

But of course, not every park district or municipality has the funds set aside to construct restrooms from the ground up at their various sites.

Jeremy Smith is the building products manager for a Midland, Va.-based manufacturer of precast concrete buildings serving a wide variety of applications. Their single and double restroom units are delivered to the site pre-assembled, pre-plumbed and pre-wired, and as Smith explained, that means there will be minimal disturbance at the building site. "By delivering the building as a complete unit, there is considerably less time spent onsite, reducing overall construction schedules. The off-site assembly greatly reduces the space needed to complete the job with less workers present on parklands, etc."

In most cases, according to Smith, the customer will prepare the soil sub-base and provide water/waste/electrical stub-ups on the restroom models that require them, and then Smith's company will set the building with a crane. "In many cases, the restroom can be hooked up to the utilities and be ready to use the same day."

Smith explained that larger, multi-module units—which are pre-manufactured and then site-assembled—might take two to three days for installation. "In a few cases, we can provide the site work as well if the locality doesn't have the means."

Gary Burger, director of commercial operations for a manufacturer of prefabricated concrete restrooms and other buildings for national, state and municipal parks, added that while the client usually completes site preparation, his company can assist if requested, and they do provide the necessary drawings to complete the site work as part of their package. His company's flush restrooms are also pre-wired, pre-plumbed and tested before shipping to meet local code requirements.

When asked about the advantages of the precast concrete versus a built-in-place structure, Burger echoed that the hookup of the utility lines can be completed in a matter of hours. "Water, sewage and electrical utility lines are stubbed up through the prepared base material to match up with the utility blockout within the floor of the chase area," he said. "Minimal site work is required; no kits, cement blocks or tilt-up panels are necessary."

The prefab concrete structures are fully accessible and come in a multitude of configurations: single, double, multi-user, unisex and family assist. They feature high snow loads, wind loads, seismic design and are even bullet tested. Many design options are available. "Our buildings are aesthetically designed and can match local architectural details," said Burger. "Multiple floor plans are also available. We have 28 standard colors and 12 standard textures to choose from." Wall textures include barnwood, stucco, aggregate, split-face block, board & bat, horizontal lap siding, brick, flagstone, Napa Valley rock and river rock. Roof textures include cedar shake, ribbed metal, aggregate and tile.