Peeling Back The Paint

Overall, Upshaw says, the most critical part in maintaining restrooms properly is selecting the ideal location. He points out that certain facilities, such as those too close to a parking lot or obscured from view, eventually will host “negative social behavior.” Additionally, proximity to an amenity–such as a skate park—may not be wise because it may inevitably be subject to vandalism. With an average price tag of $400,000 to build a restroom facility, Upshaw says location is a key factor that should not be overlooked.  

“We felt strongly enough that we really needed to get the location right,” he says. “All of this works together to make people feel safer.” 

Additional recommendations to ensure safety and deter vandalism include thinning or removing shrubs or trees, and redesigning the interior of facilities and the exterior screen walls to eliminate or decrease available hiding areas. Other suggestions include: 

  1. Making restrooms visible from areas of intense activity within the park, and where possible, visible from park entrances and the street.
  2. Selecting exterior vandal-resistant lighting with polycarbonate covers or a similar product, controlled with a photo cell, and all wiring to be concealed.
  3. Requiring doors to open out for escape.
  4. Providing screening that will not make for a hiding place (64 inches high and 16 inches of open space at the bottom for visibility of one’s feet). 

Safety In Numbers

Although there are no building codes that specify the number of compartments and sinks for park restrooms, Robert Brubaker, project manager for the American Restroom Association, says it’s a good idea for safety reasons to separate sinks from toilets instead of compartmentalizing them. 

“When you go down to one room, the privacy allows you to use it for things that it wasn’t designed for,” he says, pointing to vagrancy, drugs, drinking, and other unwanted behaviors. 

In La Jolla, Calif., the Kellogg Park South Comfort Station design not only separates sinks and toilets, but also allows for a greater flow of traffic by utilizing space on the outside of the building. The toilets are housed in individual compartments, while sinks are located outside. 

“Think of a bunch of port-o-johns back to back, and then turn it into a brick-and-mortar building,” he explains. 

Brubaker admits this only works well in warm-weather climates, but says the level of protection it provides to patrons is worth considering elsewhere. 

“When the door opens and you see no one is there, then you can enter. If the door is locked, that means there’s someone in it, but you’re not going to commit yourself before you go in and see no one’s in there.” 

Pease agrees that an inverted layout that places all doors around the perimeter is ideal for visibility, as well as safety. He recommends eliminating internal passages where possible, and creating an environment in which it’s “easy to see and be seen.” 

For areas of the country that cannot feasibly utilize outdoor-exposed facilities, Brubaker says the zigzagging labyrinth entrance is preferred “from a security standpoint.” 

“First of all, you don’t have to touch anything, so it’s cleaner, but you can also walk around and look in before you commit to entering a stall,” he explains. 

He adds there is a downside to a larger footprint when utilizing a labyrinth-style entrance, but notes this is not a major factor for park restrooms since they are generally stand-alone buildings. 

Besides, he notes, the peace of mind the openness of the design provides is worth the extra square footage. 

“When Mom sends her son in to use the restroom, she can stand outside, but she can still hear what’s going on and make sure he’s OK,” he says. 

Emphasize Importance

When it comes down to it, the more attention paid to restroom facilities increases customer satisfaction, which should be the ultimate goal of any park and recreation agency. However, as noted in the Denver restroom study, it is not always easy to convince employees of the importance of these facilities, which are sometimes considered a nuisance. As a manager or anyone involved in overseeing this operation, do your employees a favor and reiterate the importance of what they do: “Those assigned with cleaning restrooms must be appropriately trained, mentored, and supported as appropriate,” the study notes. It should be communicated that the task of cleaning restrooms is as important to the department and the city as any other task.”


Criteria For Locating Restrooms: 

1. Where 150 or more people gather per day in a four- to six-hour period at a particular location at least three times per week during the summer months. 

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