It's a fact: Most students, faculty and visitors who enter a school or college building eventually will use that facility's restrooms. Whether the destination is a lecture hall or classroom, the gym or other sports facility, the cafeteria or the student union, the human flow of restroom traffic is steady — year-round for some facilities and 24 hours a day in some cases.
This high volume puts a strain on facilities and on maintenance crews, who are expected not only to keep restrooms clean and fresh, but also to make sure lavatories, sinks and accessories are working correctly. And even though the restroom patrons at a school or university are somewhat captive, they still feel entitled to facilities that are clean, well-lighted, safe and attractive. If restrooms are neglected, outdated or out of order, eventually the administration will hear about it, because unkempt restrooms can leave a negative impression on the entire enterprise.
One of the major obstacles to keeping school and college restrooms in good repair is vandalism. Common problems include graffiti on counters and lavatory partitions, blocked-up faucets or toilets, and missing or broken soap and tissue dispensers. Just encountering vandalism can be disturbing, raising doubts about a facility's security capabilities.
The solution? Specify restroom furnishings and fixtures designed and built to help defy common vandalism damage. Initially, it may cost more to choose vandal-resistant products, but they will pay dividends in the long run. By contrast, if an institution chooses to save money upfront, it will discover that when repairs and replacement costs are factored in, it's usually not the better choice.
Pairing durability and beauty
If the image of durable restroom furnishings and fixtures conjures up spare, utilitarian, industrial-looking products, think again. Restroom products can be not only rugged, but also attractive and appealing.
One of the newest materials available for lavatory fixtures is a molded natural quartz material that can be sculpted into a range of design options typically not associated with restrooms: graceful curves, soft radius edges and elegant shapes.
Depending on an institution's requirements, it can specify such sophisticated configurations as an elongated basin with a hidden drain, and a lavatory system that uses a minimalist trap cover to conceal plumbing below. Variances in color and texture can add to a restroom's appeal.
This natural material costs less than granite and is virtually maintenance-free, because it does not require sealing, buffing or reconditioning; unlike granite, this resilient quartz material can be repaired. In addition, its smooth, seamless finish has a non-porous surface, so it does not support microbial growth.
Other budget considerations
With the recession taking its toll on school and university budgets, officials should select fixtures and furnishings that can provide a smart return on their investments. Some suggestions:
Go low-maintenance. Specify fixtures that require minimal maintenance. Some of the newest materials for sinks and basins resist stains, chemicals, scratches and heat, which in turn reduces the likelihood of repairs and the need for replacements
Go low-flow. Low-flow restroom fixtures already have become the standard in commercial and institutional restrooms. Toilets that once used 5 to 7 gallons per flush (gpf) are now required to use no more than 1.6 gpf. Many school specifiers also are opting for ultra-low-flow toilets and waterless urinals for their facilities.
Photovoltaic cells. Another way to maximize savings and environmental efficiency is with light-activated lavatory systems. Photovoltaic cells integrated into the top of a lavatory system convert either normal restroom lighting or daylighting into energy that is stored and used to power valves and sensors in the handwashing fixtures. These fixtures eliminate the need for batteries and electrical hookups. By eliminating replacement batteries, these products not only cut operating costs but also help reduce the more than 2 billion pounds of batteries that are sent to landfills each year.
Lighten up. Lighting in restrooms is a critical element in pleasing patrons and defeating vandals. With poor, dim lighting, even the cleanest restrooms can seem poorly maintained and depressing. Good lighting lets patrons see how clean — and safe — a facility's restrooms are.
Get coordinated. Coordinated fixtures and accessories also are available with vandal-resistant features. Consider specifying durable cast-brass faucets because they have no surface-mounted knobs to tempt vandals. Some models are designed with the sensor module and operating valve housed within the faucet, further discouraging damage.
Consider selecting accessories that are recessed and flush-mounted. Not only do they deter vandals, but also they maximize space and give the room a sleek, finished look.
Lockers. Budget constraints and privacy concerns have dictated major changes in school locker rooms. Some schools have eliminated showers altogether to free up space, but many new schools install showers to meet building codes, or to serve varsity athletes.
For budget-strapped schools, a hinged, pivoting wall shower can provide fast installation and easy access to components for maintenance or repair. Other options for school shower rooms are column or wall showers with partitions that create space-saving clusters of shower stations. Similar to toilet partitions, these low-profile "modesty modules" are built around prefabricated shower fixtures. In addition to offering some privacy, they also resist vandalism.
Water savers. Infrared sensors on faucets and lavatory systems save additional water by ensuring that water is running only while someone is washing hands. Metered faucets have a flow rate limit of 0.25 gallons per cycle (gpc), which is the amount of water used during each activation.
Infrared activation can be used to control water at peak times, saving scarce resources and reducing utility charges. Depending on local codes, water used by lavatories varies from 2.5 gallons per minute to 2.2 gpm, with many public restrooms using just 0.5 gpm.
Health and safety first
Besides reducing waste, infrared fixtures can reduce germs. Increasingly, the public is sensitive to hygiene and wary of touching objects that have been handled by other patrons.
A 2010 annual handwashing survey found that 89 percent of American adults said they washed their hands after using public lavatories. Yet, other responses indicated some may have exaggerated how often they did the job correctly. Almost all said they also used soap, yet 54 percent admitted they've simply rinsed on occasion, without using soap.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls hand hygiene "the best way to prevent infection and illness." And for proper handwashing, the CDC says nothing beats soap and water. Hands-free faucets and well-equipped restrooms in public facilities can encourage more handwashing.
Renner is a senior product manager at Bradley Corporation, Menomonee Falls, Wis., a USGBC member and manufacturer of locker room products, plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, partitions and emergency fixtures. He can be reached at [email protected].