The restroom, and what goes on in there, are subjects that cause many people discomfort or embarrassment. In our culture, we recognize the need for toilets and urinals and have many occasions to be grateful they are readily available in public spaces, but the prevailing attitude is the less said about them, the better.
The result is that washrooms don’t always receive the attention they require. Their design may be an afterthought. Cleaning and maintenance schedules may not be sufficient to get rid of grime and unpleasant odors. In schools, where hundreds of students a day may use a bathroom, this can lead to facilities that are breeding grounds for germs and disease, and that provide opportunities for bullying and vandalism. Some students may decide to endure physical discomfort rather than take a step into such an unsafe and unsanitary place, and they may find it difficult to concentrate on their school work.
Renewed focus by education institutions on student health, campus safety, and sustainability for green schools are factors drawing attention to the benefits of improved restroom design.
Schools and universities that thoughtfully design their washrooms and carefully select the equipment and fixtures for them are in a better position to provide students with facilities that are safe, clean and user-friendly, while providing fewer distractions to tempt would-be troublemakers. In addition, the way the restrooms are outfitted can result in savings through reduced consumption of water and electricity.
Even in a well-maintained school restroom, students can be exposed to germs that can lead to illness and absenteeism. Each time students have to touch the handle of a faucet or flush valve, a door knob, toilet stall walls and doors, or dispensers for soap or towels, they may pick up germs left behind by previous users.
The best way to combat the problem and escape contamination is to avoid touching those items. Sensors can be installed at many steps along a bathroom user’s path that enable a user to complete their bathroom business while minimizing contact with surfaces that may have germs. Sensors on toilets and urinals can detect when a user has moved away and trigger flushing mechanisms; faucets can flow automatically when sensors detect hands in washing position; sensors on soap dispensers will release a set amount of product when hands are placed nearby. Regardless of whether a restroom is equipped with either paper towels or air dryers, sensors can detect when wet hands are ready to be dried.
Controls can be installed to open doors automatically when a student is ready to exit a washroom.
Hand in hand with health concerns is the issue of student safety. Young people can be ingenious in finding ways to create mischief in school restrooms. To discourage any inappropriate behavior, school officials should provide restrooms that minimize the opportunities for doing anything other than attending to bathroom business.
Eliminating entry doors in school bathrooms discourages bullying, vandalism or other inappropriate behavior. An open entryway deprives students of the isolation that may embolden them to pick on another student or deface fixtures and equipment. In addition, the open doorway enables teachers to monitor student behavior more easily from the corridor.
To reduce the time students are out of sight of teachers or other monitors, many schools have installed sinks in the corridor instead of inside restrooms.
Inside the restroom, installing trash receptacles, soap dispensers and towel dispensers so they are recessed into the wall and installing wall-mounted fixtures so they are tamper-resistant help discourage abuse. The trash receptacles should be installed immediately below towel dispensers to increase the odds that discarded towels will be disposed of properly.
Installing graffiti-resistant stall partitions and using chemical coatings or other protective materials that make removal of graffiti less difficult will help schools stop restroom conditions from deteriorating.
A growing emphasis on energy conservation and environmental awareness in schools and universities has given rise to many ways for institutions to cut back on the use of water and electricity.
Water flow from faucets and shower heads can be reduced and limited with the use of low-flow aerators and automatic shutoffs.
Where building codes allow, education institutions can install urinals that use no water. Manufacturers estimate that a no-water urinal can save up to 40,000 gallons of water a year. Green schools that opt not to try no-water urinals can instead install ultra-low-flow urinals, some of which use as little as one-eighth of a gallon per flush.
Just as access to daylight can improve the ambience of a classroom, it can have a similar effect for washrooms. Inadequate lighting may make a bathroom seem less clean. A space brightened with natural light will seem more welcoming and possibly lessen the anxieties of students who are apprehensive about using a school restroom.
Daylighting in a restroom will reduce electricity consumption, and savings can be enhanced with sensors that can adjust lighting levels depending on the amount of natural light. Including motion sensors will enable schools to turn off lights when nobody is using the restroom.
Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].