Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

School Restrooms

School RestroomsWith renewed focus on student health and campus safety, many schools are planning to renovate existing and/or build new restrooms. The design of these facilities must meet numerous national, state, and local jurisdiction codes as well as be ADA compliant. These requisites can be found in The International Building Code (IBC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the International Energy Conservation Code.

Once the layout of the space is completed, what about recommendations for types of fixtures, floor materials, wall finishes, stall partitions, and overall sanitary and security considerations? There is no exact, off-the-shelf formula for all situations but the following School Restrooms 101 guideline of trends and recommendations should be helpful in designing facilities that offer a better experience while addressing cost and maintenance.

Plumbing fixtures

For ease of floor cleaning, sinks and toilets should be wall mounted if possible. Ceramic fixtures are fine in most situations but for the heaviest use locations, provide stainless steel sinks. Sink counters accumulate standing water so adding a shallow shelf will keep personal items dry while hand washing. Low flow, pressure assisted toilets reduce water usage and alleviate plumbing backups. Hands-free faucets, automatic soap dispensers and toilets with motion detectors reduce the spread of disease and cut cost by controlling product usage. These sensor-operated devices save water and heating costs, improve hygiene, and help control vandalism. Sensor-operated hand dryers complete the touch-less, lower maintenance budget effort while also providing an environmentally friendly option.

Stall partitions

School RestroomsInstall partitions made of solid polymer, phenolic, or solid color reinforced composite (SCRC) material. These partitions are easy to clean, durable, rust proof, and withstand vandalism. Special coatings make graffiti removal easier. Ceiling mounted partitions are best for floor cleaning but for extreme traffic and vandal prone areas floor anchored with overhead bracing is advised. Stall doors often lose alignment over time and should have sufficient clearance and lock latch length to function.

Wall finishes

Some jurisdictions and codes require a nonabsorbent wall finish to a specific height above the floor within two feet of sinks, urinals, and water closets. With many wall finishes, issues arise where moisture and bacteria penetrate joints or seams. Layers of epoxy paint may be accepted as a minimum but for better long term wear and cleaning ceramic wall tile is still the best choice. The fairly recent introduction of porcelain tile now offers an even better solution. Porcelains are stronger and available in larger sizes so there are fewer grout seams in which to collect dirt. For wall areas above the tile, a scrubbable epoxy or polyurethane paint is usually recommended.

Floor finishes

School RestroomsFloor finishes should have tractability yet be smooth enough for easy cleaning. Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) and sheet vinyl have not proven to be a good choice due to cracking, tearing, and the inability to keep bacteria and odor from accumulating in seams. Ceramic mosaic tiles had been a popular choice in the past but newer larger porcelain tile available in larger format and assorted sizes are more durable and add to the design of the space. Because grout will become darker with age, darker color grout is a good selection. Providing curved tiles where walls meet the floor also prevents dirt build-up and facilitates cleaning.


Most restroom ceilings consist of a hung grid and ceiling tiles, which are porous. Ceiling tile surfaces should be treated with an antimicrobial additive or have a substrate that is inherently resistant to the growth of mildew and bacteria. The surface should be cleanable with water and a mild detergent. Since most restroom finishes are hard, restroom ceilings should have as high an acoustical NRC rating as possible to absorb sound and provide privacy.

Restroom entry and exit

School RestroomsRestroom doors should swing outward and be configured to avoid hitting passing hallway traffic. Exit should be possible by using a shoulder without touching any other surface. Research has shown that 200 million bacteria can populate a single hand after using a public restroom. Even if a person has thoroughly washed their hands, touching a door handle negates their efforts. If this type of exit is not possible, then a wall mounted hand sanitizer or a trashcan for paper towels used to open the door should be offered at the exit. Labyrinth entrances, which are door-less and do not offer sight lines into the restroom from the corridor, also avoid the door swing and sanitation issues. This design is also less conducive to unwanted activity such as bullying and vandalism since monitoring from the corridor is easier.

Lighting the bathroom properly is important. Daylight, offered with skylights or clerestory glass, can improve ambience, help the area appear cleaner, and reduce lighting requirements. Installing motion sensors to turn off lighting when no one is occupying the restroom will also reduce electrical demands.

Poor design and maintenance can contribute to misbehavior, vandalism, and accidents.

Planning your renovation or new facility with an interior designer or architect and manufacturers that specialize in restroom products will ensure that all aspects of a successful design are incorporated.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Paula Worthing, CID, LEED-AP, is a principal of PLDA, Inc., a full service interior design firm located in Baltimore. Established in 1998, PLDA works in the commercial market segment for corporate, education and healthcare clients. For more information or to contact the author, please email [email protected] or visit

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