Healthy School Buildings Mean Healthy Students and Healthy Learning

Using K–12 building design to improve student experiences
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Sponsored by ASI Group, Construction Specialties, CornellCookson, Elkay®, Excel Dryer, GAF, Inpro, NanaWall Systems, and Scranton Products®
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Locker Room Showers

Locker rooms with communal showers have been common in schools for decades, but times are changing. There are new norms about bathing privacy that have raised new concerns and challenges related to restroom and shower design. Further, additional risks of serious bacterial infections for athletes and other users puts new focus on the design and surface cleanliness of communal shower installations.

Separated shower stalls or compartments are becoming more common in schools instead of communal shower arrangements. In order to be effective, they need to include spaces not just for showering but also for adequate dry-floor changing space that allows bathers to disrobe and get dressed within that space. In designs where space may not allow the combined shower and changing area, an inline approach only with individual showering stalls can be used. In the interest of healthier showers, many designers are choosing solid surface material for the shower enclosure. This eliminates the need for grout lines, which can harbor mold or mildew.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

Locker rooms in schools with individual shower stalls reflect the changing design needs compared to a few decades ago.

Restroom Environments

Design of restrooms in schools is very important not just for the convenience and purpose they provide but also for providing clean, safe, and hygienic spaces. Designed poorly, they can become a source of disruption where feelings of insecurity and lack of cleanliness can contribute to a poor learning mindset. Designed well, they can be a place where students feel safe and clean, generating positive feelings that permeate their day. Cyrus Boatwalla, director of marketing, ASI Group, has a good bit of experience in this area, and architects he has spoken with agree with his observation that “bathroom products typically cost less than 1 percent of the cost of the building, and yet they can shape 100 percent of the opinion of a building. That effect is magnified in schools where the bathroom can impact the learning experience of students.”

Total Coordinated Restroom Experience

There are more products available for restrooms than ever before, so it is easy to end up with a mismatched or incoherent design. Finding a single manufacturer who can meet multiple restroom specialty needs can help in this regard since the entire restroom can be viewed holistically to create an overall positive experience for students and other users. Here, in particular, product selection is instrumental in achieving not only a successful design but also creating a long service life.

Toilet-stall partitions used in restrooms and locker rooms first need to address privacy. Partitions are available that have zero sightlines into the stalls and create a safer feeling with regard to the restroom experience. Many different partition-height options are also available with different methods to eliminate sightlines. This privacy can be achieved using a variety of materials that also address appearance, functionality, hygiene, and durability. Plastic or phenolic products are particularly appropriate for very wet/humid environments like locker rooms or aquatic facilities. Powder-coated steel or stainless steel has also been successfully used for common areas where water and humidity are less of a concern. Similarly, plastic laminate partitions have been used as a cost-effective solution with a variety of design appearances that can transcend an institutional look by incorporating wood grain, colors, etc. To ensure a longer life in plastic laminate partitions, at least one company uses a special edge-banding process to guard against moisture penetrating through the joints in the partitions. This feature allows for an extended warranty on this product.

Looking at other aspects of a total restroom design in schools, attention to the permanent accessories can help with the coordinated overall experience as well influence the smooth, long-term operation and maintenance of restrooms. For example, soap-dispensing systems often require a lot of time for maintenance staff to refill them on a regular, even daily basis. Products are now available in top-fill soap-dispensing systems that can refill up to six soap dispensers with one pour. This saves time, but it can also mean that all dispensers are full and hands are actually washed at school, thus preventing the spread of germs and disease in school environments.

Hand drying is critical for good hygiene and hence an important detail in restroom design. The common options are paper towels and hand dryers, and while each has its pros and cons, there is room for both, even in the same restroom. One manufacturer even makes a three-in-one unit that has a paper towel dispenser, waste receptacle, and built-in high speed hand dryer. While paper towels can generate waste and may be more expensive in the long run (since they are a consumable), there are instances where they are needed for uses besides hand drying, like cleaning up a mess in a restroom or even using them to avoid touching surfaces with which people don’t want direct contact.

Photos courtesy of ASI Group

Permanent restroom accessories such as multi-fill soap dispensers and zero-sightline toilet partitions can help create a positive overall experience not only in restrooms but also in the general perception of the school building.

High-Speed Hand Dryers

A major sanitation concern in a restroom is hand drying. Paper towels are common, but they bring the risk ofw spreading germs, particularly if they are not disposed of properly. A more sanitary and environmentally friendly solution are high-speed hand dryers. Not only do they eliminate the problem of waste paper towels in restrooms, but they have also been shown to represent less overall energy use than paper towels. The cradle-to-grave environmental impacts of high-speed hand dryers have been determined using a life-cycle assessment performed based on global product category rules (PCRs) by UL Environment, a business division of Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL). Manufacturers who have used this process can then issue environmental product declarations (EPDs) for their dryers. This can help facilities qualify for several LEED v4 Credits but more significantly provide superior indoor environmental benefits and energy performance to schools.

High-speed hand dryers can be specified to include adjustable speed and sound controls, adjustable heat settings (high, medium, low, and off), an externally visible service LED, and multi-voltage options for 110V–120V or 208V–277V volts in 50 or 60 hertz. At least one manufacturer also offers custom digital imaging for covers; this gives schools a unique opportunity to place mascots, mottos, or other images on the dryers in a range of finishes, from traditional white to brushed stainless to textured graphite or other appearance.

In addition to wall-mounted dryers, new sink-mounted hand dryers are also now available as part of integrated sink systems. These systems seamlessly integrate components of proper hand hygiene in an engineered design, placing no-touch, high-efficiency fixtures together on the sink deck. This facilitates a one-stop process for washing, rinsing, and drying hands hygienically and effectively. Some dryers also feature an optional HEPA filtration system that creates a clean air flow by removing up to 99.97 percent of potentially present bacteria at 0.3 microns from the airstream.

Joe Tomaselli is the former Aramark director of operations for Niles Township School District 219 in Skokie, Illinois, where high-speed hand dryers were installed. He says, “We were able to set an example for students about the importance of reducing waste and making smart decisions about energy conservation.” Design professionals who would like to do the same in their school projects should know that manufacturers are willing to work together to achieve common goals. William Gagnon, vice president of marketing and sales for Excel Dryer, comments, “We work closely with architects, interior designers, and specifiers to serve your vision and complement your design, bringing the restroom up to the standards of the rest of the space you are creating.”


School environments encompass many different outdoor and indoor spaces that need to encourage and facilitate healthy activities that promote a variety of learning opportunities. Recognizing the range of products and design options available for many of these different spaces and needs can help architects design school spaces that are more appealing to students, easier to care for by staff, and healthier for all.

Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a nationally known architect, consultant, continuing education presenter, and prolific author advancing building performance through better design.,

ASI Group Construction Specialties
CornellCookson Elkay<sup>®</sup>
Excel Dryer, Inc. GAF
Inpro NanaWall Systems
Scranton Products<sup>®</sup>  


[ Page 4 of 4 ]      
Originally published in Architectural Record


Healthy School Buildings Mean Healthy Students and Healthy Learning
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