Operations & Maintenance: Locker Rooms

Quality Materials, Security Improve Locker Room, Restroom Upkeep

By Deborah L. Vence

Tending to fitness equipment and exercise rooms is a daily job, ensuring that each apparatus is wiped down and sanitized regularly, and that any necessary repairs are made in a timely manner.

And so it goes for locker rooms and restrooms in recreation facilities as they need attention to detail, too. Keeping them clean and orderly is a must—from the daily tasks of scrubbing toilets and cleaning sinks and floors to making sure the necessary security measures are in place.

Here, recreation industry experts shared some of their guidelines for top maintenance, how design and materials can help reduce maintenance costs, as well as some of the best ways to manage operational issues, such as security, that help keep locker rooms and restrooms in check.

Tips for Top Maintenance, Lowering Costs

Surely, there are a number of ways to make maintaining locker rooms and restrooms more efficient—from regular cleaning schedules to the type of locking devices used on lockers to the location of the janitor's closet.

"We usually try to have a janitor's closet near the locker room, where you can go into the closet, get products and get the material they need to restack the toilet paper, or whatever they may have, and have quick and easy ways to access that," said Colleen McKenna, an associate principal with Cannon Design, a full-service architecture, engineering and interior design firm. "There's a bucket and mop right there, which makes it easy for staff to clean the locker room on a daily or hourly basis."

Another way to ease maintenance is through locking devices.

"If you choose to have day locker use only, patrons are expected to bring padlocks with them, and lock the locker," McKenna said. "Sometimes the patrons won't remove their locks, so the operators have to come back at the end of the day and snip the locks off. That puts the burden back on our clients."

One possible solution in this case is to use a digital lock, a type of lock that some recreation facilities are beginning to use.

"It will time out after two or three hours," she said.

"[The facilities] don't have the responsibility, therefore, of clipping padlocks and emptying materials into a lost-and-found box and being responsible for what happens to all the materials," she said.

And don't forget that grout—a type of construction material used between wall and floor tiles— can make a difference, too. Grout should be the color of dirt, McKenna noted. No matter how good of a cleaning job is done, white grout will age over time.

So, "You need to be conscientious of tile selection, [something that] will hide color and dirt. There are endless colors. There is an endless variety of tiles, tile selection and grout, virtually any," McKenna said.

And, certainly, that can help reduce maintenance costs, too, by not having to replace the grout as much.

Meanwhile, other ways to cut back on costs include lowering energy consumption or water conservation that can help in locker rooms in which you have water-efficient showerheads or toilets and faucets.

"Anything that you can do to decrease the amount of water will save money from an operations standpoint," McKenna said. "If you do the air dryers or hand dryers for washing hands; if you don't have paper towels, you're saving on not purchasing paper towels.

"Anything you can do on the energy side, ventilation, is a huge requirement for a locker room," she added. "You need to keep the air movement going. From a maintenance standpoint, you need to have good quality air."

Design, Materials to Ease Maintenance, Costs

Reducing maintenance expenses can be challenging, but locker material selection is key in helping to keep costs down. That is, the actual design and materials used can help offset maintenance costs.

"From [our] perspective, locker material selection is paramount in lowering maintenance costs in restrooms. Choosing solid plastic material over metal can minimize locker maintenance time and costs and extend the lifecycle of the lockers," said Val Bonney, product manager for a Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based locker manufacturer.

"Choosing solid plastic material over metal can minimize locker maintenance time and costs and extend the lifecycle of the lockers," Bonney said.

"First, plastic lockers are known for being highly durable and stand up well to repeated everyday use in tough environments—particularly in humid or wet environments typical for locker room areas. Unlike metal lockers, solid plastic lockers remain unaffected by moisture, making them rust-resistant," she said.

And, besides being odor-resistant, solid plastic lockers are designed to withstand impact, dents and scratches that would easily damage metal lockers and never need to be repainted.

"With solid plastic, maintenance staff can easily wipe away dirt, graffiti, spray paint and markers with everyday cleaners," Bonney said.

"They can even be completely cleaned out with a hose for fast washdown. In contrast, old, rusted-out metal lockers with chipping paint not only look bad, but also raise maintenance concerns and can leave a bad impression of the facility with locker room users."

Not to mention the fact that there is a cost difference between plastic and metal lockers.

"Although plastic lockers have a higher initial cost, over the long run they are much more cost-effective than metal. Moreover, the typical warranty for metal lockers is one year, compared with 10 to 20 years for plastic lockers," she said.

"Plastic lockers are available in a range of colors beyond traditional gray that can complement just about any locker room design," Bonney added. "It's a good idea to coordinate the locker color selection with nearby fixtures such as toilet partitions (also available in solid plastic), lavatories, flooring and walls to ensure that your restrooms and locker rooms have a cohesive, well-thought-out look."

Furthermore, Bonney noted that solid plastic lockers are also a better choice for the environment and are made of resilient recycled material, with the choice of 30 percent pre-consumer content or 100 percent post-consumer content. Each locker is made from recycled milk jugs that otherwise might have ended up in a landfill. She noted that her company's locker division recently received Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certification and Greenguard Children & Schools Certification, "which confirms the materials used in production and the locker end product are making a significant contribution to indoor air quality by meeting strict chemical and particle emission standards."

McKenna, of Cannon Design, agrees that solid plastic is a resilient material.

"From a materials durability standpoint, solid plastic is incredibly durable, graffiti-resistant and can take a tremendous amount of abuse," McKenna said, adding that flooring and toilet partitions need to be a consideration, too, in helping to reduce maintenance costs.

"If the floor is properly sloped to a drain, it makes it really easy to hose down and clean as well," she said.

Also, "There are many vendors and suppliers that will do an overhead raised shower partition and the partition won't hit the floor," McKenna added. "You've seen them in the shower stalls where they all come down to the ground. But, there are companies and suppliers that supply overhead, all elevated, off the ground. It makes it easier to clean the floors."

Bob Martin, president of an Ontario, Canada-based locker manufacturing company, also noted that his company uses materials that are "100 percent recycled for conservation, environmentally friendly, engineered to resist rotting, infestation, warping, delaminating, etc.

"The materials we use offset replacement costs. Architects that design health and fitness clubs tell us that on the average a club owner will replace lockers every 11 years," Martin said. "Our lockers last more than 28 years (some of our original lockers manufactured in 1982 are still in use). The reason clubs replace lockers is for aesthetic reasons, i.e., change the color or size, change the options."

Security Measures

Besides regular maintenance, security is a top priority as well, seeing as recreation facility users will be storing personal belongings, taking showers and changing clothes in locker areas. Therefore, security measures should minimize theft.

Bonney's locker company has taken vandal resistance and security issues into account in the construction of its line of solid plastic lockers and the development of locking mechanisms.

"To begin, [our locker company] constructed with durable solid plastic made from either 30 percent pre-consumer content or 100 percent post-consumer content (recycled HDPE plastic)," Bonney said. "The lockers are further reinforced by durable, vandal-resistant all-welded construction.

"The vandal resistance of [our lockers] is also enhanced with a full-length latch bar, which runs the entire length of the door, providing a continuous security latching system. The latch, which lifts up to open and returns to closed position after the door is closed, is secured to the locker door with stainless steel security torx-head shoulder screws," she added.

As for locking mechanisms, the lockers come with a number of lock options, depending on the needs of the facility, such as:

  • Built-in key lock
  • Built-in combination lock
  • Card lock, which uses a card lock located inside the locker door. The user inserts a card to secure the locker with the key. When the locker door is opened with the key, the card is released.
  • Keypad lock, which also uses a keypad lock on the front door and is locked and opened with a PIN.
  • Coin return lock, where the user inserts a coin to secure the locker with the key. When the lock is opened with the key, the coin is released.
  • Coin retain lock, where the user inserts a coin to secure the locker with the key. When the lock is opened with the key, the coin is retained in a collection box secured with a master key.
  • Combination padlock
  • Pocket lock, which replaces the standard hasp on the front of the locker door. Any locker not in use can be claimed and secured by simply "docking" in the portable locking device.

Meanwhile, Martin noted that "Security is and has always been a top concern for facility owners providing lockers to their users. Usually, in the event of a break-in and a user suffers a loss of personal belongings, the facility owner is held responsible.

"Lockers need to be secure," he said. "Interesting to note, a significant trend for lock choices for lockers is going toward user convenience instead of locker security—user convenience being not required to carry a padlock or key in order to use a locker, but rather a simple user programmable digital or mechanical combination lockset that is very easy to use and offers little security."

McKenna also said that she has heard, perhaps more in the private health club market, about the use of small lock boxes or wallet-size boxes located near the control desk.

"You can come into a recreation facility, show your ID badge and put [your personal belongings] into a four-inch by five-inch lock box," she said. "You can have your wallet, cell phone and keys in these private lock boxes. And they are often right by the entry … right next to the front control desk. You can just put your materials and personal items and they are safe."

Finally, it is imperative that recreation facilities have a system in place, and most do, that require a club pass or ID card to gain access to the club.

"What happens, though, in shared use facilities, where you may have an event at which a small number [of people] don't normally go to that facility, but are there to watch a special event … they have access to the locker rooms. In that case, it's difficult to find out who's in the building. Ideally, [it's better if they are] identified in some way."

And, that's where the maintenance team can help.

"[They can] walk through and keep an eye on what's going on," McKenna said. "At the end of the day, it's about being observant, [knowing] who's in the building that will help in theft prevention."

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