Competitive Locker Rooms

A few decades ago, college campuses had a gym and men’s and women’s locker rooms. That was about it for the athletics facilities. Now, many students evaluate different schools based on whether they offer high-end amenities, such as those found in private fitness centers. Students are willing to pay a fee in addition to tuition to use these new fitness/wellness centers, which house saunas, whirlpools, cardio areas and cyber lounges, as well as classrooms for physical therapy programs.

During a renovation or new construction, it may be tempting to cut costs in locker areas in favor of these“front-of-the-gym” features, but that can be a big mistake. Opting for less durable fixtures usually ends up costing more in the long run. Moreover, schools are finding that locker rooms can actually be a factor for students deciding among several schools.

Just as with professional sports, student athletes are attuned to locker room conditions. Even students involved with intramural or fitness activities want the basics — cleanliness, privacy and some of the comforts of home.

The good news is that it is possible to meet students’ heightened expectations on aesthetics while reducing utility costs. Whether or not you have a team in the NCAA, there are some cost-effective solutions for improving locker rooms that won’t break the budget.

Go Touch-Free

The most important trend in public restrooms and locker rooms is unquestionably touchless technology. For university administrators, engineers and facility managers, water conservation is the primary reason for specifying touchless fixtures. Going touchless can save up to 30 percent of an average commercial facility’s water consumption, since water shuts off automatically when a user’s presence is no longer detected.

For users, touchless means touching fewer surfaces in the restroom or locker room that are contaminated with germs and bacteria. Faucets, soap dispensers, hand towel dispensers, hand dryers and automated flush valves are making handwashing and using public facilities easier.

Price is always a factor when specifying fixtures, but ease of installation also factors into the cost. It is important to know that installing touch-free fixtures is generally no more difficult than manually operated fixtures. Innovative sensor-activated faucets, for example, feature above-deck electronics, which means that they install as easily as mechanical faucets.

One of the latest advancements in touchless technology is called capacitive sensing. This new technology improves operation and eliminates maintenance problems that have plagued infrared-operated equipment. Faucets with capacitive sensing technology have an omni-directional detection zone surrounding the entire spout, rather than the small sensor window commonly used with infrared-controlled faucets.

Since capacitive sensing detects a user’s presence from any angle of approach, it eliminates the frustration of having to locate the“sweet spot” under the spout. Vandal resistance is a key benefit because less user frustration equals less abuse. Also, since all of the mechanical and electrical components are concealed, these fixtures are extremely vandal resistant.

Another point worth noting: many local codes require a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) for lavatories and faucets, but specifying lavatories that use just 0.5 gpm can save additional water over and above that of going touchless alone.

Privacy in Shower Areas

Improving shower areas is a quick way to boost student morale. Let’s face it; one of the key reasons people do not like to shower in public is the lack of privacy. To address this concern, large group showers are making way for more private areas. On the high end, individual showers with adjacent changing areas are common. This kind of privacy is more costly, but it also presents a security concern, which is why some schools avoid going this route.

A more practical solution can be achieved with a combination of column showers or wall showers and partitions that offer users some privacy. Similar to toilet partitions, these “modesty modules” are short partitions built around a prefabricated shower fixture. Column showers or wall-hung showers grouped in multiples of two or four showerheads that spray into individual shower areas.

The “modules,” or stainless steel partitions grouped around the showerheads, normally include a stall for showering and another optional area for dressing, separated by a curtain. For convenience, the dressing stall often features a seat and robe hooks. Installation is easy since most units are shipped complete with all of the parts and mounting hardware.

Better Showers

Nothing makes using a public shower more frustrating than not being able to adjust the water temperature except, perhaps, having the shower turn off every 20 seconds. Newer showers have a number of options sure to please both users and facility managers. If a metering device is necessary to ensure showers are not left running when not in use, a good, safe electronic metering valve should be provided.

More reliable metering valves have electronics that are completely sealed from humidity and moisture. Some electronic valves offer the ability to pre-set timing from one to three minutes. These controls should also be sealed, along with the electronics inside the push-button pad.

Improved spray heads on some showers allow for easier rinsing with less water. Low-flow showerheads use two gallons of water or less each minute, to meet water conservation requirements. If temperature control is important, heavy-duty, pressure-balancing valves or thermostatic mixing valves can be used. These valves not only protect the user from scalding, but they are extremely durable and vandal resistant.

For budget-conscious installations, hinged pivoting wall showers are an alternative to built-in, wall-mounted units or column showers. The special hinge door on pivoting showers simplifies installation and ongoing maintenance, which saves time and money. By removing vandal-proof fasteners from one side of the shower panel, the unit swings away from the wall, providing easy access to components. Where required, provide units that are ADA compliant and include hand-held shower sprayers and adjustable showerheads.

Unlock the Benefits of Plastic

In high-profile athletic locker rooms, wood may be the material of choice for lockers, but for high-traffic locker areas used by those on and off campus, plastic is the best option. Rusted metal lockers with multiple layers of paint give users a negative impression and should be a thing of the past. Older locker rooms can be given a quick facelift by installing new, long-lasting, solid plastic lockers.

While metal lockers initially cost less, over a 20-year lifecycle the plastic lockers actually cost less per locker than metal because painting, door replacement and other maintenance adds up over time. Plastic lockers never need to be painted and will not rust or deteriorate in moist locker room environments. Even better, plastic lockers are usually made of post-consumer recycled content, and some are made entirely of recycled material.

Storage needs and space should also be considered when selecting lockers and accessories. In pool or fitness areas, it often makes sense to provide cubby lockers where users can temporarily store belongings, such as a towel. For locked storage, there are several space-saving alternatives to the traditional full-height locker. The space under locker benches can be maximized with benches that have built-in lockers below for extra storage.

Stacked lockers, such as newer “Z” lockers, are designed to give each locker some additional height, allowing more hanging space for jackets and other clothing and thereby helping to prevent users’ belongings from getting wrinkled. The “Z” design is an efficient way to achieve multi-tiered storage. A range of color options is available for standard and “Z” solid plastic lockers that complement or coordinate with toilet partitions and other accessories.

Lighten Up With Better Lighting

After selecting the larger fixtures and accessories for the locker room, it is important to take a closer look at other details that affect the overall ambiance. An effective way to reduce electrical costs and make restrooms more inviting is through lighting. Recessed lights over vanity areas are warmer than harsh florescent light strips. Energy-efficient lamps and sensor-operated lighting controls are other sources to investigate. Bringing in natural light or indirect light is another option, albeit more expensive. Installing skylights or clerestory windows can give restrooms a more natural feel, but there are potential concerns to keep in mind for adding daylighting in locker rooms. There can be special HVAC needs to prevent moisture and humidity problems.

A fresh coat of paint costs next to nothing but is another easy way to brighten locker room areas and make a big impact. Whether you have a locker room budget near that of a major league clubhouse or a more modest one, there are always things you can do to make locker rooms more inviting and user friendly. Architects, plumbing engineers and commercial restroom product manufacturers are good resources to help you find the best solutions to maximize your budget while reducing water consumption and utility costs.

Ryan Pfund is the Shower and Thermostatic Mixing Valve product manager at Bradley Corporation, a leading manufacturer of plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, partitions, emergency fixtures and solid plastic lockers. He can be reached at Bradley Corp., W142 N9101 Fountain Blvd., Menomonee Falls, WI, 53052. For more information, call 800/BRADLEY or visit