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Protecting Against Vandalism

Vandalism and heavy use and abuse are a fact of life in school washrooms, as is the continuing need for on-going maintenance, equipment replacement and periodic renovation. School facility managers are challenged to keep washrooms clean, attractive and functional while also dealing with the pressures of ever-tightening capital and operating budgets.

It is reasonable to expect heavy-traffic school washroom facilities to require high levels of maintenance. Unfortunately, senseless vandalism and abuse are another matter. Vandalism is difficult to police since perpetrators operate within the confines of the washroom and, for the most part, out of sight; not to mention the damage done in toilet compartments behind closed doors.

Therefore, selection of vandal-resistant equipment is the facility manager's first line of defense in dealing with the costs associated with abusive washroom patrons.

Application-specific decisions School washrooms cannot be categorized into a single specification; there are many types-pre-school, elementary, middle, high school and universities. Further, campuses include both staff and student facilities, locker and shower rooms adjacent to gymnasiums, and washrooms serving sports arenas and auditoriums. Each area has different requirements.

Prior to considering washroom accessory and toilet-partition selections for renovation or new construction, review several factors for each environment: -User profile(s) and behavior patterns. -Extent of vandal-related use and abuse. -Maintenance and product replacement history. -Equipment life-cycle and maintenance cost analysis. -Traffic flow and usage factors. Washroom accessory and toilet-partition manufacturers design, engineer and fabricate products using a variety of materials, and offer various warranty terms. The goal is to find appropriate models that meet specific application criteria, at appropriate life-cycle prices.

Putting up walls

Usually, partition systems provide doors, panels and stiles fabricated of metal, stainless steel, laminated plastic, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, phenolic and polyethylene. Each is available in various colors. Hardware is offered in stainless steel, plated steel, plated zamac and aluminum with either individual or full-height hinges and mounting brackets. Framing systems and mounting formats complete the possibilities. Keep in mind that all component options are not available in all combinations.

The following materials are the most often specified: -Hollow-core metal. Advantages of hollow-core metal are low cost and a range of color options. However, they are the least durable, least corrosion- and impact-resistant, and are the most vulnerable to smashing, bashing, graffiti, scratching and rust. Damage almost always is permanent and, therefore, metal partitions require repainting or replacement. They are available with baked-enamel, powder- and acrylic-coated finishes. When budget parameters are unyielding, installation should be limited to faculty and staff facilities.

-Hollow-core stainless steel. Corrosion- and rust-resistant, stainless-steel partitions do not require refinishing or repainting, and coordinate well with stainless-steel washroom accessories for a design-integrated layout. However, they offer little protection from smashing, bashing and scratching. This system is most appropriate for college and university applications, or in staff and faculty facilities in grade schools.

-Laminated plastic. Laminated plastic panels, doors and stiles (with and without steel reinforcement) also are available with stainless-steel edge trim for extra durability. Cores are fabricated of heavy-duty particle board. Some manufacturers produce laminated plastic at a small premium over metal, with superior impact-, graffiti-, corrosion- and scratch-resistance. There are numerous color and pattern options.

Other advantages are simplified maintenance and cleanability for removing marker pen and other graffiti. Check flame-spread and smoke-generation factors against code-compliance requirements, and compare budget-priced laminated plastic to metal for staff lounges. Also, consider models with steel-reinforced stiles for student washrooms with a history of low to moderate abuse. However, do not specify for facilities subject to hose-down maintenance.

-Fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) provides color thickness superior to laminated plastic with gouge-, scratch- and graffiti-resistant textured surfaces. Models are available with laminated plastic edges or incorporated into heavy-duty aluminum framing systems with edge trim. All versions are fabricated with particle-board cores, and are available in a limited number of colors. FRP is almost bullet-proof and is an ideal specification for moderate to heavy-use and abuse student and stadium facilities, especially series with the aluminum framing system. However, avoid installing FRP in moisture-prone environments or in areas requiring hose-down maintenance.

-Polyethylene. Polyethylene offers solid-color completely through, good structural integrity, as well as impact, water and moisture resistance. As a soft, porous material, polyethylene is vulnerable to scratches and graffiti; however, removal is achieved by sanding down the affected areas. Check flame-spread and smoke-generation factors against code-compliance requirements. Color selection is limited. Polyethylene is an appropriate choice for extra-heavy use and abuse washrooms, and where hose-down maintenance is required. It is ideal for installations adjacent to shower rooms and swimming pools.

-Solid phenolic. Solid phenolic provides good structural integrity, as well as impact, moisture, and graffiti resistance. Most marks can be removed from the hard surface with a solvent. Flame-spread and smoke-generation factors meet or exceed most fire-code compliance requirements. Some manufacturers offer this heavy-duty material in many colors. Consider it for extra-heavy use and abuse facilities where hose-down maintenance is utilized, and in moisture-prone environments near swimming pools and showers.

Aluminum framing systems, overhead braced and floor-to-ceiling anchored mounting are extra-sturdy and the most resistant to heavy use and abuse. Ceiling hung, which provides clear floor space for maintenance, and floor anchored, which is the least expensive, are not recommended for vandal-prone washrooms.

Most systems provide heavy-duty stainless-steel hinges attached with theft-resistant one-way screws and mounting brackets. For extra durability, consider hardware packages with continuous, full-height door hinges and U-channels for attaching panels and stiles, and impact-resistant vinyl door stops.


Of the six basic material options for partitions, only two offer washroom-accessory coordination opportunities. They are stainless steel and solid phenolic for dispensing soap, towels, napkin-tampons, condoms, toilet tissue and seat covers, and waste and sanitary-napkin receptacles. Accessory material choices listed from least to most durable are: 1. Metal with baked enamel finish. 2. Plastic (usually ABS or a polymer). 3. Type-304 stainless steel. 4. Solid phenolic.

Additionally, some manufacturers produce extra-durable warm air dryers with scratch- and dent-resistant cast-iron vitreous enamel finish covers.

Material is only one durability factor, design is another. Sharp edges and ledges, as opposed to smooth contours, tend to collect dust and dirt, which requires extra cleaning. Protruding levers are vulnerable to vandalism, as are broad surfaces of unreinforced panels. Solid-phenolic and radiused or reinforced stainless-steel cabinet doors are the most durable. Door limiters, double-pan construction, hemmed edges, push vs. pull mechanisms, tumbler locks and anti-theft devices all support long-term value.

When it comes to installation, recessed is the least vulnerable to heavy use and abuse. Surface-mounted accessories are targets for vandals.

When choosing paper-towel dispensers and waste receptacles, consider cabinets with solid phenolic-faced, recessed doors because of impact, graffiti and moisture resistance. Also, color choices are extensive to match partitions and coordinate with interior design and school-color pallets.

Among stainless-steel models, curved front panels are more impact-resistant than flat panels. However, some flat panels are available with double-pan and reinforced engineering. For installations where the users are adults, consider less costly stainless-steel, which is cost effective where abuse is not a factor.

For soap dispensers, push mechanisms as opposed to pull-so they will not pull away from the wall or mirror mounting-and integrated vs. protruding spouts are two functionality issues. Consider recessed solid phenolic-faced models or stainless-steel curved front and tank-type dispensers. Countertop-mounted soap dispensers have become popular in recent years, but they can be vulnerable to vandalism. Check locking-mechanism integrity and free-turning (revolving) spout characteristics for some degree of vandal resistance.

Addressing additional concerns

In extreme vandal-prone conditions, consider eliminating conventional glass mirrors and evaluate bright-polished stainless steel with or without a frame. Additional options include glass with a plastic shield to facilitate graffiti removal, and shatter-resistant and tempered or laminated glass.

When choosing between warm-air dryers and paper towels, consider that some manufacturers offer scratch- and dent-resistant cast-iron vitreous enamel finish covers, which are extremely durable. Also, schools may choose from automatic and time-controlled, push-button operation. Again, beware of vulnerable, protruding controls and rotating air spouts used by vandals as funnels or receptacles. Eliminating paper towels has other benefits. For example, electric hand drying is less expensive--by about 85 percent--than the cost of paper-towel usage, storage and handling. Also, warm-air dryers eliminate vandals using paper towels to stop up and interfere with plumbing, and as a source for starting fires.

Vendors-such as for sanitary napkin-tampons and condoms-are available in recessed and surface-mounted models. Again, examine the operating mechanisms and choose recessed units with the least protruding levers. Solid phenolic-faced and curved-front stainless steel are the least vulnerable. Locking mechanisms are another important factor, protecting coinage and inventory. Choose models with separately keyed double-door and coin-box tumbler locks.

Keep in mind that toilet-tissue and toilet seat-cover dispensers are installed inside toilet compartments, out of view, constituting an invitation for vandalism without detection. Therefore, consider solid phenolic-faced or stainless-steel. Stainless-steel cabinets with theft-resistant spindles and tumbler locks will protect toilet tissue rolls.

Every school washroom environment presents unique problems and opportunities in terms of the level of toilet partition and accessory vandal resistance and durability required. Patron behavior, traffic volume and usage patterns affect product selections.

By carefully establishing durability criteria for each facility within the campus and evaluating alternatives, a school can combine vandal resistance and cost containment. Consider the following:

-Avoid selecting equipment that does not meet use-and-abuse criteria, and may require costly maintenance, refinishing or replacement. Check the records and consult maintenance staff for their experience with various models and brands. Life-cycle-cost analysis will be helpful, as well as a clear understanding of the patrons to be served and their behavior history in the washroom.

-Do not generalize washroom categories; specify products based on the degree of vandal resistance required for each facility. For heavy-use-and-abuse washrooms, accessories and toilet partitions that are engineered and fabricated of durable materials are well worth it in terms of longevity of service and reduced long-term costs.

-Regardless of the toilet-partition material specified, give consideration to heavy-duty hardware and sturdy aluminum framing systems, or overhead braced and floor- and ceiling-mounted configurations.

-For vandal-prone facilities, select flush, recess-mounted washroom accessories fabricated with solid phenolic-faced doors, or stainless-steel cabinets with curved-front doors. Avoid protruding elements-controls, spouts, etc.-that are vulnerable to vandalism.

-Check the integrity of the locks and theft-resistant features of all accessories--bashing and smashing are only part of the abuse story; theft and misuse of paper products is another. Consider eliminating paper towels in favor of warm-air hand dryers.

Before making a choice, consult manufacturers with experienced, responsive sales representatives and distributors. Many know the school washroom market and can provide valuable information and assistance including washroom layout, and product selection and placement.

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