Cleanliness is still the number-one concern for patrons in locker rooms and restrooms. Even students rate cleanliness as a top priority, with a recent survey revealing that 50 percent of high schoolers avoid using the restrooms at school because of vandalism and unsanitary conditions.
When designing these spaces, maintenance considerations are an unglamorous necessity.
"Whatever you do, think about maintenance because your facility is only as good as it appears day after day," says Gary Buczkowski, director of planning and development for Hoffman Estates Park District in Hoffman Estates, Ill. "You can't just rely on extra people to keep it clean."
Choosing materials that resist graffiti and rust and don't show dirt as well as designing them to be within easy reach of cleaning products will help. Of course, materials aren't everything. Having a sufficient cleaning staff and regular daily cleaning schedules are important too. When materials do become damaged, however, it is essential that they be repaired or replaced immediately.
For the dry sauna in the Hoffman Estates Community Center, which had become a maintenance headache, the decision was made to gut and re-panel the interior. However, to avoid repeating the problems encountered with perspiration stains in the wood seating area, the new interior was designed with a horizontal rail to reduce contact with the vertical slats. The horizontal slats can be switched out as needed to keep the interior looking fresh and clean. Shower curtains are another locker room feature that need to be regularly monitored for cleaning or replacement to remain looking fresh.
Looking fresh is an important maintenance goal. Smelling fresh is too. Although notorious for their gym-shoe fragrance, locker and restroom areas can aspire to greater things. Expect more. Being sensitive to smell means making sure the ventilation systems are working correctly, cleaning out day lockers regularly and perhaps installing air-freshening devices.
Time is money. Saving time on maintenance efforts means less money spent on materials and staff. When thinking about lightening the maintenance load in locker rooms and restrooms, choosing the right locker for the environment is one key factor. Another is choosing the right flooring as well as designing seating and partitions in a way that makes cleaning that floor a lot easier.
Wherever possible, look for ways to keep contact between the floor and other structural elements of the room to a minimum. Seating, for example, that is built into the lockers and off the floor, can make cleaning, well, a clean sweep. Likewise for ceiling-mounted partitions.
For many facilities undergoing renovations or new installations, epoxy flooring is getting a lot of attention. Originally used in the biotech and pharmaceutical labs for its antibacterial properties, its seamless design with integral coving, comfort, aesthetics and durability are making it a fast favorite in many locker rooms and restrooms—especially in high schools like Central Valley High School in Ceres, Calif.
"Aesthetics played a large role in the design of these spaces," says Gary Mallory, architect and vice president of FF&J Architects, Inc. in Turlock, Calif. "We wanted to create an environment that would be pleasing to the users as well as functional. We used color epoxy flooring throughout the locker rooms that extended into the showers and restroom areas."
Because of epoxy flooring's seamless design, grout—the arch nemesis of cleaning staff—is no longer a problem.
When grout is part of the equation, however, money still can be saved by reducing the amount of grout needed in an application. Using larger tile is the key. Because larger tile requires less grout-line area, time needed to grout those tiles is greatly reduced—and so is the money needed to pay for it. And after installation, fewer grout lines mean less cleaning time. With very upscale-looking larger tiles like 12-inch ceramic to enhance the appearance of the space, larger tile can be a win-win selection.
However, in shower areas where slip-resistance is an issue, smaller tiles still should be used. But even there, instead of the traditional 1-inch tiles, a 2- to 4-inch tile can be both a visual and budgetary improvement.
For cement flooring, texture needed for slip-resistance and regular sealing applications are required to keep it functioning at its best. Still a common choice for budget-strapped locker rooms and restrooms, integral coloring of the poured concrete or staining is one way to dramatically enhance an otherwise industrial-looking surface. Color can be your friend.
Carpeting choices, of which bacterial-resistant varieties are available, is a great choice for comfort and appearance. But don't press your luck or your wallet to expand it to wetter areas. If you've ever experienced the delights of squishy carpet under bare feet around a pool or shower area, you probably would agree that carpeting near lots of water is a big no-no. But carpeting portions of flooring space such as changing areas, lounges or vanity spaces can be ideal for giving patrons an accent of luxury.