Feature Article - October 2020
Find a printable version here

(Rest)room for Improvement

Adding or Upgrading Restroom Facilities to Meet Visitor Expectations

By Dave Ramont

The modular buildings come with precast foundations, which reduce construction impacts and allows for running existing plumbing below the floor, providing more efficient floor plans and cost-effective utilization of interior spaces.

Standard floor plans feature a myriad of options when it comes to interior and exterior finishes and colors, as well as fixtures and accessories. But custom plans are also available. "Changing the floor plan or other parts of the design is not only easy, it's fun," said Earlywine. "We enjoy working with architects whose clients want something unique, and we are there to advise on cost implications for the different design elements."

The company will also assist with installation if requested. "With video conferencing being what it is, we are surprised customers still want us on site. Although, it's not a bad investment to have an expert right there and ready," he said.

Security is also a major consideration, according to Smith. "The great thing about precast concrete restrooms and facilities is the fact that they are incredibly hard to infiltrate. With a strong, secure entry, there is not much a vandal can do to harm these buildings. Anti-graffiti coatings make graffiti easy to remove if that is a problem." Smith's company utilizes galvanized steel insulated doors on their structures.

"Our vandal-resistant engineering minimizes abusive wear and maximizes our structures' service life," said Burger. "Some of these features include vandal-resistant motion-sensor LED lighting, electronic locking systems and anti-graffiti coating." Additionally, lights can be mounted high and plumbing valves can be placed in the chase area away from the public. In fact, the restrooms have few exposed controls or mounts, and vandal-proof fixtures are more difficult to damage.

Of course, keeping the restroom clean is of utmost importance, and manufacturers are well aware that it's crucial to focus on ease of cleaning when designing their structures. No matter how modern or convenient a facility is, patrons will typically only remember if it was dirty or clean when they visited. And with coronavirus concerns on everyone's mind, cleanliness has taken on a whole new level of urgency.

"Our long-standing view toward cleaning restrooms has been to make it as easy as possible for our customers to provide safe and clean facilities for their patrons," said Smith. "The use of epoxy coatings inside the restroom and stainless-steel fixtures, along with our floor-to-wall radius cove system, eliminates many of the opportunities for germs and dirt to accumulate. Our precast buildings naturally resist mildew, rot, etc., while easily being cleaned." A radius where the wall meets the floor makes it easy to hose out the interior. The radius-shaped grout creates easy-to-clean joints that don't collect grime. Also, wall-mounted fixtures make it easier to clean underneath.

All of our story contributors offer touchless fixtures as an option. "We are beginning to offer restroom fixtures that have anti-microbial coatings, as well as automated entries and sensors (hands-free fixtures) within the restroom to address the latest COVID-related fears," said Smith. "We are definitely seeing more interest in these items."

Back in Illinois, a spokesperson for the St. Charles Park District tells us that with the onset of the virus, cleaning of their new facility has been increased to three to four times a day following CDC requirements. "Surfaces are very durable, non-porous and easy to clean, with porcelain tile walls, solid surface partitions and epoxy floor."

Earlywine explained that since their restrooms can be customized, it allows them to construct the structure in whatever way the customer feels would be the easiest for them to clean and maintain. In fact, on their website they offer a Tips & Advice section with helpful articles and blogs. Posted there are three articles authored by Earlywine's brother Kip that focus on public restrooms in the COVID-19 era: "Designing Restrooms Around Covid"; "Maintaining Public Restrooms in a Pandemic"; and "How to Safely Use Public Restrooms During a Pandemic."

According to Earlywine, these articles discuss meaningful changes that parks can make immediately to make their facilities safer and make their patrons more at ease. He went on to highlight a few of the points that he feels are the most important:

>> "Maximize ventilation by keeping doors open or installing a fan—the virus is most commonly transferred through droplets in the air. Ventilation will move the virus out of the restroom. Frequently refill soap and hand-sanitizer dispensers.

>> "Replace existing fixtures with hands-free activators—this is easiest and most helpful with the sink faucets.

>> "Tape off or cover over some fixtures to create greater separation between users- social distancing is important even in the bathroom."

One extra suggestion that Kip Earlywine mentioned is to consider permanent signage that encourages restroom users to wash their hands, wear masks and practice social distancing. He points out that just as the Americans with Disabilities Act changed the culture of restroom design, the coronavirus will likely do the same. "Having convenient restrooms available to the public has been a major factor in improving health around the world," he wrote. "Public restrooms are not going away, nor should they. We must all do our part to make them as safe as possible both for our visitors and even for those who never visit our public places." RM