HOW TO SOLVE THE RESTROOM DESIGN EQUATION
- By ARNIE WILKE
- March 1st, 2003
If you have 1,800 students, how many restroom stalls need to be included in a school plan? What about the size of the restrooms and their locations in the school? What is the standard height for toilet partitions? It may surprise you to learn that the answer to all of these is,it depends. Variables such as the location of the school, age of students, size of the facility and many others factor into restroom design.
The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for designing effective school restrooms. Numerous state and national codes affect washroom facilities, and often, choices are made based on school preference. While there is not a rule of thumb that will apply to every facility, there are a few guidelines and resources school officials and facility managers should be aware of.
Defining Good Design
Keeping school restrooms sanitary and attractive should be a top priority. Public washrooms project an image of the school — either good or bad — and do have an effect on student safety and morale. In the planning stages for renovations or new construction, cleaning, maintenance and vandalism prevention should be taken into account.
Maximizing functionality is always a priority for architects and engineers, along with space allocation. Traffic flow should be evaluated to be sure high-traffic washrooms can accommodate the large number of students that need to use facilities during breaks and keep them efficiently moving toward the entry/exit. Well-designed washrooms should also be accessible to all students and encourage good hygiene.
Decoding Building Codes
Building codes and/or plumbing codes (adopted by the authorities having jurisdiction) specify the number of restrooms and fixtures needed within each restroom based on the number, age and physical ability of users. The challenge is that codes vary state to state. To complicate things further, there are not many specifics for school restrooms, but rather public spaces in general. California and a few other states have created their own set of educational codes to address these issues.
The good news is that strides are being made toward the adoption of a national uniform building construction code. Three nonprofit code organizations came together in 1994 to establish the International Code Council (ICC) in hopes of accomplishing this task. Today, more than 20 states have adopted one or more of the International Building Codes (IBC) and are enforcing them statewide. The rest are enforcing the International Codes at the local level or have independent state requirements. Some states are following similar codes as part of the Uniform Building Code.
Code provisions related to restroom facilities and the number of fixtures can be found in Chapter 29 of the IBC 2000. The IBCplumbing systems chapter states that educational facilities must have a minimum of one water closet and lavatory for every 50 males and females, as well as a drinking fountain for every 100 people. For estimating purposes, generally a ratio of 50 percent boys and 50 percent girls is used to determine the appropriate number of facilities. However, many strive to achieve potty parity between the restrooms and add extra stalls in the girls’ restrooms to prevent lines. These minimums may also be required by the model codes (codes written by the code councils prior to any amendments for specific locations) for certain assembly areas within schools, such as auditoriums or gymnasiums or other areas.
The IBC stipulates that restrooms must be located within 500 ft. of the occupants it will serve. Although the model codes contain minimum distance requirements, there may be local ordinances adopted by local jurisdictions (i.e. state department of education, board of health) that require a specific location for restroom facilities.
You may be wondering how these numbers are determined. Actually, there is no exact science, and they have primarily been derived through trial and error. The latest codes have been upgraded from older codes that go back decades. The numbers are simply refined through time based on experience, often a result of recommendations from industry manufacturers.
Meeting ADA Compliance
Beyond the building codes, facilities must abide by another set of regulations to accommodate those with physical limitations. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approved in 1990, mandates the type and placement of accessories, as well as heights for toilet fixtures and partitions, dispensers, grab bars, lavatories and mirrors and urinals. Toilet stalls and open spaces must be large enough to provide easy access for students in wheelchairs or on crutches. Generally one ADA-compliant sink, toilet stall and toilet or urinal is required for each restroom.
Although the ADA applies to many parts of the restroom, it does not require a specific layout or shape, says architect Del Stevens of Veazey, Parrott, Durkin & Shoulders in Evansville, Ind. Restroom sizes are usually determined by the width of surrounding classrooms and the space of adjacent hallways. They tend to be rectangular, which can be very effective for today’s corridor concept washrooms.
The Access Board (formerly the Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) has developed a series of accessibility guidelines specifically for children’s facilities that would modify current ADA requirements. Industry experts refer to these as the children’s elements. Although these guidelines have not been adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice, and therefore are not yet enforceable, it does make sense to follow them to be sure facilities are up-to-date for future changes.
Many of the new guidelines are based on the ages of the students using the restrooms. Children are grouped from ages 3-4, 5-8 and 9-12. Following are some of the proposed elements:
Toilet Paper Dispensers — mounted 14 in. to 19 in. from the floor.
Grab Bars — mounting height of 18 to 27 in.
Water Closets — height should be 11 to 17 in. measured to the top of the toilet seat. Seats that spring to a return position are prohibited.
Urinals — stall-type or wall-hung urinals with an elongated rim at a maximum of 17 in. in height.
Lavatories — height of apron and knee clearance of 24 in. minimum for children ages 6-12; maximum height for the rim or counter surface of 31 in.
Toe Clearances — front and side partition mounted at least 12 in. above the floor, rather than the nine-in. adult toe clearance, because children’s footrests are generally higher than those of wheelchairs used by adults.
According to Damon Adams of DO Adams Consulting Services in Indian-apolis, Some states have adopted Chapter 11 of the building code and some states have adopted through local jurisdiction ordinances for children’s facility requirements. It is important to contact local building and fire officials to determine what has been adopted by local jurisdictions at the project location.
It is worth noting that if renovations are being made to restrooms that have existed since before ADA was enacted, the facilities must meet minimum requirements for barrier removal. This would include widening toilet partitions.
Lavatory and sink faucet controls are another restroom component that must be accessible. According to ADA, these must be operable with one hand without tight grasping or twisting. They should be activated using a maximum of five lbs. of force.
Hands-free or touchless lavatory fixtures and soap dispensers that operate using an electronic infrared sensor are an ideal solution for this requirement. They are also energy efficient because water is automatically shut off when the user’s hands leave the sensor area.
Planning ahead to avoid costly changes and problems is really the only formula for success. Every state and community has professionals that specialize in helping facilities recognize and implement building requirements. Communicating with these professionals and manufacturers early in the process ensures that all aspects of successful design are taken into account.