Camp Bathrooms And Showerhouses

Mario Hurtado, the brilliant property manager of YMCA Camp Jewell in Connecticut taught me this great application: use the FRP horizontally for the first 48 inches of the wall, creating a “wainscot.” Then finish and paint the drywall from that level up to and including the ceiling.

Here’s the magic: you can buy “mildewcide” at a paint or home store, and it will be mixed into the paint for no extra charge. It prevents mildew and mold from growing on the painted surface for years. And just as important,use a light-yellow semi-gloss paint. The bathrooms are positively cheery and look more like a bed and breakfast than a locker room!

“You mentioned I could make a choice?” If the FRP still looks too commercial, those same 12-inch floor tiles (in a contrasting color) will look great on the walls, too, and for not much more than the cost of the FRP, other than the extra installation time. It’s what you’ll see in most restaurant bathrooms now. But I still recommend not going higher than 5 feet, leaving 3 feet of painted drywall to the ceiling to keep it feeling light. But don’t take my word for it–find examples of all of these in your local restaurants (and bring your camera)!


If you have an architect design a showerhouse, there will be four options for sinks. If you say “inexpensive,” the architect will go with a long Formica countertop with oval sinks dropped into it. (The Formica will delaminate over time from the standing water, and the thick lip of the sinks sticking up above the counter makes it impossible to wipe water into the sinks.)

If you say inexpensive but durable, the architect will specify individual china “lavs” hung from the wall. (These are a pain to clean, look institutional, and have no place to set your toiletries.) If “it’s just a kids’ camp, that’s kind of like a prison,” the architect will give you one of those round, stainless-steel gang sinks that spray eight kids’ hands at once. Wow, that will save water and look good to parents. If you say “I want Corian,” the architect will be happy to give it to you, but it will cost thousands. (This is a great choice if you have thousands.) If you don’t, then cultured marble or stone (the one-piece vanity tops from the home center) can be ordered with as many sink bowls as needed. I’ve ordered as many as six in a 12-foot unit. They look great and are easy to clean.

How do you dry your hands? Most people hate electric hand dryers because they take so long; but paper towels really are a waste of resources. The extra cost of a “high-velocity” hand dryer can be made up in just a year or two in savings on paper towels and staff time.

Toilets give people fits, and everyone has an opinion. The fact that low-flow toilets clogged so easily when they first came out gave them a bad rap. They’ve been redesigned since, and most normal toilets work fine (if kids flush them). Do you want to make the kids really happy? Find the money to get self-flushing toilets.

“What about wall-hung toilets so they’re easier to clean around?” Let’s face it–if the bathrooms are dirty, it isn’t because the toilets are in the way. In my opinion, it’s a big expense for very little payoff.

What about urinals for boys? “Wouldn’t extra toilets be more versatile?” Sure, if you don’t mind wiping the pee off the toilet seat every time before you sit down, and I mean every time. Urinals are faster, use less water, and keep bathrooms smelling cleaner. This one’s an easy choice for me.

One of the most visible choices you’ll make is the stall partitions. Here–as much as anywhere–going for the cheapest (painted steel) will give you the most expensive headaches over time. They’ll rust, names will be scratched in them, and with a little abuse they’ll even bend. Stainless steel won’t rust, but once names get scratched into it, it will never look the same again. For the highest initial cost but the lowest cost over time, get solid plastic “Hiny Hiders” from Santana Plastics. You’ve seen them in all colors in lots of nice restrooms.

Architects tend to design institutional bathrooms like those from previous decades, and that goes for showers, too. Most often they’ll specify showers built of concrete block with an epoxy paint finish. Gross.

You’ve seen what that looks like after a few years. So you cover them with ceramic tile? You could, but why go to that expense for something that feels cold on your feet (and your bottom if you back into the wall)? Contractors would rather put in one-piece fiberglass shower units. They’re easy to clean, look great, and are warm to the touch, long-lasting and fast to install.

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