As a hot spot for vandals and a breeding ground for germs and disease, school washrooms often are headaches for administrators — and can be particularly troublesome when they waste resources.
Schools that are upgrading their washroom facilities can take advantage of new equipment and systems that will conserve energy, water and paper.
In Niles Township (Ill.) High School District 219 outside Chicago, many of the washrooms have been upgraded in the district's two high schools. In choosing how washroom users would dry their hands, officials had to weigh the pros and cons of paper drying vs. drying machines.
Paper drying can become costly as students yank towel after towel from dispensers, but hand-drying machines often fail to work quickly enough for some students, who can be seen finishing the job by rubbing their damp hands on their pant legs.
“The way kids cram into the bathrooms, we needed a faster dryer,” says Matt Overeem, director of buildings and grounds for the Niles district. “We've gone to a lower-amperage, higher-volume type of dryer.”
The machines use less electricity than most other dryer models and produce greater amounts of heated air. The result, Overeem says, is drier hands in less time.
The opportunity for savings is typically greater for energy use compared with water use. In the Niles district, energy costs are about $1.1 million a year compared with $100,000 for water costs. Still, schools can install many fixtures and equipment that can curtail unnecessary water use.
In Los Angeles, the district has begun to upgrade many of its 15,000 student bathrooms. The primary goal, says Robert Hamm, deputy director of maintenance and operations, is to improve conditions for students — providing safe and sanitary facilities — but many of the renovations will help to conserve water.
“A lot of steps have proven effective, such as sinks with automatic shutoffs, automatic flush valves, hand dryers,” says Hamm.
One step beyond low-flow urinals is waterfree urinals. Overeem says the Niles district has installed some of those for use at its sports stadiums.
“At football games, we have long lines for the restroom and just have two stalls,” says Overeem. “So the waterless urinals have worked well there. They are hard to vandalize. Before, kids from the road team would jam their soda cans into the toilets if their team had lost.”
At Michigan State Universitiy in East Lansing, men's bathrooms in new facilities are outfitted with waterfree urinals, says Gus Gosselin, a maintenance supervisor at MSU.
Retrofitting bathrooms with waterfree urinals is more difficult, Gosselin says, because they are installed at different heights than traditional fixtures.
Another obstacle for waterfree urinals is that in many jurisdictions, building codes will not allow them.
“Some code officials are reluctant to accept them,” says Overeem. “They're still too new.”
Estimated number of gallons of treated water that could be saved each day if U.S. public schools cut consumption in half.
25 to 75
Percentage by which most schools can reduce their municipal water consumption using water-conserving fixtures and practices.
Number of gallons of water that could be saved each year in a school with 300 male students by replacing 10 regular urinals with water-free urinals.
1 MILLION to 3 MILLION
Number of gallons of water a public school in the United States uses each year.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, “Energy Design Guidelines for High-Performance Schools.”