Necessary Luxury

We’ve certainly come a long way from the lowly necessary. Since the advent of indoor plumbing, residential bathrooms have morphed from simple and utilitarian to luxurious and show-stopping. Expensive materials, state-of-the-art fixtures, and high design furnish bathrooms in even modest homes. While students entering college probably don’t expect the same level of comfort, they do want something with a bit of flair.

Unless, of course, they are coveted athletes. Varsity teams for Division One, revenue-generating sports expect locker rooms with a“wow factor,” according to Sherri Hultgren, senior associate, HOK Sport + Venue + Event. Seeing as the locker rooms present a legitimate recruiting opportunity, the approach makes sense. And as that luxury begins to trickle down, along with ease of maintenance, intrinsic safety, and water conservation, all the students and facilities staff can now say“wow.”

Play for the Players

Starting at the top, however, revenue-generating athletes are treated to perks some of us can only dream of. “Each coach has their own idea of what that ‘wow’ factor is,” Hultgren continued. “But they all agree on quality, comfort, and ease of use.” For a football team, ease of use translates into a locker room big enough for a coach to address 120 players and staff on game day. Technology like wide-screen televisions and electronic whiteboards remain the standard. Adjacencies are designed to get a whole team in and out of the locker room efficiently.

Quality and comfort are expressed through leather seating, custom carpet, and lockers that remain a far cry from plain metal boxes. “Comfort ranks higher than efficiency and cost in these spaces,” said Patti Intieri, AIA, principal, Cambridge Seven Associates. “Locker rooms like these are more than a place to shower and change.”

But there’s a reason for all of this pampering. “High-end design goes a long way to building team pride and self esteem,” said Marty Lee, sales manager, Debourgh. With grueling practice schedules and full course loads, the locker room becomes a home-away-from-home, or in many cases, a residence hall room. Graphics packages also prove to be an important feature. “We display a team’s history, tradition, successes, and inspirational quotes,” reported Hultgren.

There’s also room for fun. At the University of Washington, basketball players take part in an unusual ritual: they cut each other’s hair. To support this activity, Hultgren installed a real barber’s chair. She also made the sinks more comfortable by raising the vanities to b-baller height and separated the mirrors with sconces.

Something for the Rest of Us

While collegiate athletic perks remain legendary, some bathroom pampering has made its way down to the lowly graduate student and professor. For instance, the new student and faculty apartments at University of California, San Francisco, designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), feature bathrooms with an elevated sense of style. “We wanted to create affordable housing in an expensive market,” said Michael Duncan, associate partner, SOM. “But we wanted materials that would look good for a long time.”

To that end, Duncan employed Chinese granite countertops and laminate cabinets with a faux maple veneer. While jetted spas were not in the budget, slightly smaller-than-full-size tubs were installed. Special care was also taken with lighting.

But what about residence-hall bathrooms? Have any efforts been made to upgrade these typically sparse spaces? “Absolutely,” assured Jon Domisse, director of marketing and product development, Bradley Corporation. “When I started in this business ten years ago, lockers and restrooms were very secondary to the building scheme. Now everyone from the architect to the owner to the facility manager wants something special in these spaces.”

Make no mistake; performance still reigns supreme. “People still want products that act like a Sherman tank,” said Domisse. “But now they want them to look like a Porsche.”

And they are willing to pay a little extra for them. How else can you explain full-length, no-peek partitions in bathroom stalls? “Actually, that’s a privacy issue,” explained Domisse. “With today’s camera cell phones, building owners and school officials can’t be too careful about protecting people’s confidentiality.” But that doesn’t clarify the expanded use of upgraded materials. Facility managers are specifying stainless steel at a faster rate than good old baked enamel.

The same could be said for lockers. “There will always be a spot for metal lockers,” continued Domisse, “but metal dings easily and has to be maintained. Plastic costs more initially but you can kick and scratch them and they look good for up to 40 years. Plus they never need a paint job.”

Rising Tide of Conservation

Water conversation remains the biggest buzzword for fixtures like faucets, showerheads, urinals, and toilets. “The new high-efficiency products mean that schools can see significant water savings and users don’t know the difference,” said Rob Zimmerman, senior staff engineer, water conservation initiate, Kohler. Gone are the days of the 3.5-gal. flush. Today’s high-efficiency toilets flush with 1.28 gal. or even less.

Of course if that low-flow flush produces a clog only your savings go down the drain. “Blockages cost maintenance departments between $50 to $100 apiece,” observed Derek Kilpatrick, North American manager, Caroma USA, Inc. “Also, if students flush twice to relieve the blockage it defeats the purpose.”

Luckily, current technology pairs low flow with high efficiency. The initial cost doesn’t break the bank either. “High-efficiency showerheads, which lower water flow by 30 percent, cost about the same as standard heads,” said Zimmerman. “Toilets run about $25 to $50 more per unit.”

Waterless urinals have also come a long way. Installed in test schools like Vanderbilt University and The Johns Hopkins University, facility managers love them for their easy of maintenances and compelling water savings. “You just wipe them out daily like a sink and pour a bucket of water in them every two to four weeks to reseal the trap,” explained Zimmerman.

Whether a sink, urinal, or toilet, some schools are moving to touchless technology. “People feel that it’s cleaner,” said Domisse. “So everything from faucets to dryers to soap dispensers is going touch free.”

No matter what style owners ultimately choose, the fact remains that bathrooms and locker rooms reflect upon a school and its attitude towards its students. “We design elegant buildings,” said Duncan, “and the bathroom is part of that building. It’s part of the infrastructure and part of the message the campus wants to send.”

So even if they are not saying “wow,” students should at least say “ahh.”