Feature Article - October 2022
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Essential Amenities

From Aesthetics to Safety, Park Restrooms Adapt

By Dave Ramont

Many options exist when it comes to visiting parks and other outdoor recreation spots, from urban playgrounds to hiking trails way off the beaten path. Some are focused around sports activities while others cater to canines. You can visit a farmers market, catch some live music or simply find a place to catch your breath. But one common denominator when it comes to visitor satisfaction is restrooms, and it's a major consideration for destinations to make these structures as inviting as possible, no matter how basic they might be.

We've heard a lot about how the pandemic has brought more people out to recreation sites, which in turn has led many overseers to reevaluate the amenities they provide for guests. Comfortable, safe, accessible restrooms are at the top of the list as they encourage longer stays and provide an essential amenity. "Updated bathrooms are moving up on our customers' wish lists for parks," said Gregg Zentarsky, a sales manager for a manufacturer of precast concrete products, including prefab restroom structures, with offices and manufacturing facilities across the U.S. He confirmed that their orders are up along with quoting and customers' requests. "The pandemic shone a light on keeping public restrooms cleaner, and all our concrete buildings fit the bill due to the ease of keeping (them) clean."

Setting the Tone

"It appears to us that more cities are investing in parks and recreation than ever before, and families want to live in communities with a thriving parks culture," said Hannah Duncan, marketing and communications director for an Oregon-based designer and manufacturer of structures, including restrooms. She added that the ability to customize structures to meet a community's needs is of particular interest.

We're not talking about simply plunking down a porta-potty on a sports field, so it's important for decision-makers to consider aesthetics when choosing exteriors for a new restroom structure. "Parks can set the tone for an entire city," said Duncan, "and cities across the country are looking for ways to provide facilities for the community without taking away from the surrounding atmosphere."

Duncan said that some designs are timeless. "Customers are always interested in board and batten siding with a stone wainscot, but we have also seen a more recent trend in single-slope roofing structures."

You might find cedar shake roofs or ribbed metal roofs, while other common exteriors include exposed aggregate, barnwood texture, flagstone, split-face block, Napa Valley rock, stucco and simulated brick. There are smooth or textured paint options, and customized form liner finishes to simulate wood, stone and various other finish textures.

"Customers are always looking for a more aesthetically pleasing building," said Zentarsky, "but matching existing buildings on site is usually a must for most of our customers. (We) typically can come pretty close to matching our customers' existing buildings with our breadth of textures and colors we have to offer. We're finding that the combination of stone and lap siding seems to be the trend right now."

Exterior add-ons might include covered entrances, privacy screens or alcoves for drinking fountains.

Interior considerations include waste receptacles, mirrors, hand dryers and toilet paper holders. Fixtures are most commonly vitreous china in flush buildings, though stainless steel is also an option, used mostly if vandalism is a problem.

"(We) offer motion sensor features for all of our standard restroom fixtures," said Duncan, who added that there's been an uptick in these features since the pandemic.

Zentarsky said that both baby and adult changing stations are becoming the norm in newly designed buildings. "Also, we're seeing a major increase in electronic locking doors being ordered to elevate our customers' need to physically open and close their bathrooms on a daily basis."

Assess Your Needs

Planners need to consider park activities and average daily attendance when choosing what size structure is appropriate. It's estimated that about half of park visitors will use the park restroom, and a single-occupant unit can typically service up to 45 people an hour. Depending on park layouts, flow and the number of entrances and exits, sites may choose to place larger multi-user structures around main entrances or heavy-traffic areas, or multiple single- or double-module units spread out around the site.

Smaller plumbed units may use a 4-gallon water heater while larger multi-user structures may utilize a 30-gallon tank. Plumbing is often hidden and secured in a separate utility chase, and equipment rooms and storage areas can be added, providing plenty of functionality. "People who work on these buildings and the overall care of the park have found that storage and equipment space incorporated into the park's restroom building is a great asset," said Duncan.

And what about incorporating showers into the buildings? "Shower buildings are extremely popular right now," said Zentarsky. "We sell multiple designs of buildings with showers only, along with a line of buildings with both restrooms and showers included."

Concession area add-ons are also popular. "This is another building that's taking off throughout parks across the country. (Our) standard concession buildings include all the amenities that are typically needed such as three-compartment sinks, mop and hand sinks, roll-up concession windows and outlets throughout."

Duncan agreed that showers and concessions are very common. "(We) don't charge extra for a custom design, so it actually saves our customers a lot of money to incorporate several features into one building. It avoids multiple bid processes and hiring multiple contractors along with other benefits."