Defending the Bathroom

Some students like to take things apart. Others like to break things. And don’t forget that large group of adolescents that are simply accident-prone. All of them use the bathrooms during every school day. And some bathroom parts don’t survive.

Manufacturers have been working for years to defend school bathrooms from marauding students. When they succeed, it usually isn’t for very long. Sooner or later, students will find a way around the defenses.

Here’s a look at what three manufacturers are doing right now to help prevent students from vandalizing their school’s restrooms.

Shoot It With a Gun

“It takes a lot of power to break one of our compartments,” says Michael Erhard, a sales representative with Santana Products, Inc. of Scranton, Pa., who manufactures solid plastic restroom partitions trade-named Hiny Hiders.“We’ve shot them with guns, and they still don’t break or crack apart. The bullet just tumbles out the other side.”

Hiny Hiders have been protecting school restrooms from vandalism since 1978. According to Erhard, the secret to the durability of the product is the one-in. thick homogeneous plastic. Solid plastic will not break, and it never needs to be painted. The product comes in 23 different colors.

In the 1980s, competitive compartment panels were made of 20-gauge, hollow-core metal and painted with enamel. Acids in urine would eventually cut through the enamel and cause the metal to rust. The relatively thin metal also proved easy to dent and break.

Through the years, Santana has tried to eliminate all ferrous metals used in its compartment products. Company engineers have replaced the metal clips that hold the plastic panels to the walls with plastic channels matched to the panel. Stainless steel metal shoes used to attach panels to the floor. But floor cleaners and moisture causes metal to pit and to rust. So Santana developed a plastic shoe connector that eliminates those problems. “There are no up-charges for plastic connectors,” says Erhard. “They come standard with our package.”

A Santana package includes the panels in a custom-fabricated plastic partition, the solid plastic connectors, and stainless steel latches, strikes, coat-hooks, nuts, screws and bolts. Santana has also gone to a security head for its fasteners, replacing traditional slot or Phillips head screws with tamper proof screws.

“For example, the panel brackets have two flanges,” explains Erhard. “They wrap around the panel, and we bolt through that with a male and female screw that is secured in the middle.”

Santana’s urinal dividers are made from the same vandal resistant materials, connectors and hardware as the restroom compartments.

Get Rid of the Water

Falcon Waterfree Technologies of Grand Rapids, Mich., has found a way to eliminate water from urinals, thereby adding another level of defense in the battle against bathroom vandals.

According to Randall Goble, director of Marketing Communications for the company, a water-free urinal plumbs to the regular drain line just like any other urinal. But there is no water hook up because the device requires no water for flushing.

Instead, a cartridge fits in the bottom of the urinal (see accompanying diagram). When urine passes into the cartridge, it flows through a sealant liquid that is lighter than water — as well as urine. The sealant blocks odors and bacteria from backing up into the restroom. The cartridge acts as the trap for the urinal, in that standing fluid is always present below the sealant layer, just as standing fluid is always present in a normal drain trap.

When urine inside the trap reaches a certain level, it overflows into a small tube, which moves the urine into the drain line.

Under normal use, the sealant lasts for the life of the cartridge. Through time, the cartridge will collect uric sediment, which causes the cartridge to drain slower and slower. “We recommend that custodial staff periodically pour in a cup of water and watch the flow rate,” Goble says. “When it slows, change the cartridge.”

Won’t this uric sediment also build up in the drain line when there is no water to flush? “Actually, water creates worse deposits,” continues Goble. “Hard water creates mineral deposits that must be cut out with a drain cleaner’s cutting blade. Since water-free urinals don’t introduce water to the drain line, fewer deposits build up. Even so, uric sediment does build up through time. This is a soft sediment, and it can be flushed away by simply pouring a bucket of water down the urinal.”

Water-free urinals reduce vandalism in two ways. Most importantly, they do not need a flush valve. “Kids are tough on flush valves,” Goble notes. “They hang things from them and even stand on them.”

Second, water-free urinals have no water. So plugging them up does not cause water to overflow onto the restroom floor and create the serious expenses associated with flooding.

Caution: Students With Tools

Students often carry tools with them, for the skateboards, bicycles, cars and other equipment commonly used by 21st-century teenagers, says George Spear, commercial product managers with Moen Incorporated of North Olmstead, Ohio. “So when we design commercial faucets, we try to use attaching hardware or screws that require special tools,” he says. “Second, we design with rounded instead of squared surfaces — making it much harder to use a standard wrench to turn it.”

Moen employs the same strategy with the faucet aerator, a device that sits just inside the fixture and mixes air with water to create a full-bodied water stream when the valve is opened. “Kids often remove aerators,” Spear says. “They like to have the screens, or they just want to vandalize something.”

Moen has designed a special key that removes and installs the aerator up inside the faucet, where a potential vandal can’t see it and so may not think about trying to remove it.

Spear also notes the importance of metered faucets and valves in preventing vandalism. “Sometimes schools have problems with students clogging sink drains with paper towels and then turning on the water,” he says. “Metered faucets that dispense only a certain amount of water help deal with this problem.”

Metered faucets and flush valves for urinals are available in mechanical and electronic varieties, today.

Moen also uses vandal resistant braided stainless steel covers for supply lines under sinks. These protective covers simply slip over the supply lines, making them very difficult to cut.

“Of course, there’s always a better way to skin a cat,” says Spear. “Give someone enough time to work on a vandal-resistant product, and they will eventually figure out how to take it apart or break it. Then you have to change methods. So we’re always thinking about how to build redundancies into a vandal resistant-design” to stay ahead of the curve.

By Michael Fickes