Camp Bathrooms And Showerhouses

I see thousands of parent evaluations of summer camps every year, so when I ask, “What’s the single biggest complaint you get?” I already know–the bathrooms. Calling them KYBOs (Keep Your Bowels Operating) or other cute names doesn’t give you any help with the fact that kids and parents aren’t satisfied, especially with cleanliness.

Why? Because if we can’t get something as simple as keeping bathrooms clean, how in the world can they expect us to do something so much more complicated, like keeping their child safe? And they’re right. Plus, it’s just gross.

Don’t even think about building a new showerhouse if you won’t spend the money and effort to keep it clean. Mud in a new building will look just as bad or worse. But if you have made the commitment to clean, there’s no question that a new bathroom/showerhouse may have the single biggest effect on camper (and parent) satisfaction than any other capital improvement.

First Decisions: Type Of Construction

I’ve never seen a camp showerhouse (or dining hall) that didn’t require two things:

1. Plumbing repairs because of leaks (in the North, most often because of freezing)

2. Expansion or other floor-plan changes (to enlarge, add more fixtures, be ADA-compliant, provide privacy, etc.).

If the interior walls of the showerhouse are built of concrete block (CMUs), it becomes a major headache, if not a real obstacle. But if the walls are framed in wood (with double 2 x 4 pressure-treated sill plates), it’s a relative walk in the park.

What about exterior walls? They have more to do with environment and seasonality. For low maintenance it’s hard to beat split-face (that’s the rough surface) or burnished (the smoother surface that shows the imbedded pebbles) colored concrete block. But insulating that wall can be inefficient and expensive, so it may be best for summer-only facilities, which leads back to wood framing as a good exterior option, too.

Floor construction can be trickier, and that’s because the only good choice for floor covering in wet areas is glazed ceramic tile (as opposed to un-glazed quarry tile). The issue here is that the only fool-proof surface to put tile on is a concrete slab. Though a contractor may say he can put tile over a wood floor, you’ll find the tile manufacturer requires over-sized floor joists (to prevent the floor from bouncing the slightest bit), extra-thick floor sheathing (3/4-inch tongue-and-groove plywood) and concrete backer-board tightly screwed on top. Skip those steps and not only will the tile and grout crack, but the wood underneath will rot.

There are a few rules of thumb you should include in the plan to prevent recurring headaches–and all have to do with plumbing. First, don’t put any plumbing (like sinks and toilets)on outside walls as it’s not possible to insulate enough to prevent freezing pipes. Second, try to put all plumbing along a common “plumbing chase,” typically a 32-inch-wide hallway between two bathrooms, with all sinks, toilets and showers backed up against it. All water pipes can then be left exposed in the “chase” so that repairs can be made without having to rip open a wall. Finally, sequence functions from the door like this: sinks, (urinals), toilets, then showers. No matter what, the shower area will have a wet floor, and you don’t want people walking through there to get to toilets or sinks–mud will be everywhere.

Floor Coverings

Glazed porcelain tile is used in most commercial construction today–it’s dense and strong, and there are many colors and textures; most importantly, there is the non-slip surface of a non-gloss glaze. No longer are you confined to 1-inch x 1-inch tiles for shower rooms. Six-inch or even 12-inch tiles work just fine. (The exception is floors of old shower stalls, where 1-inch tiles are easier to slope toward a floor drain.)

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