The Strong and Sustainable Solution for K-12 School Lockers

Satisfy durability demands and sustainability criteria in any school corridor
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Sponsored by Scranton Products
Jeanette Fitzgerald Pitts

One such demand was heard from Lynne Peterson, executive director, Cologne Academy in Cologne, Minnesota. The charter school was expanding and one of the goals of the Facilities Task Force was to identify alternatives to the traditional metal lockers found in the corridors of the existing buildings. “It has only been five years since the Academy first opened and the metal lockers are already starting to look worn. We wanted to put a locker that would outlast and outperform the metal lockers in the new addition,” explains Peterson.


Traditional metal lockers are typically less than 1/16 of an inch thick, thinner than a standard copper penny, making the locker panels susceptible to denting and damage from everyday impacts.


As most high school chemistry textbooks will reveal, steel rusts when it comes into contact with water and oxygen. For a real world demonstration, many students need not look farther than the base of their locker. Simply pick up the snow boots dripping a melting mess of snow and salt on the bottom panel. This is a first-rate rust-causing concoction that can quickly corrode the locker surface wherever the paint-coat has been compromised.

In September 2011, flooding from Tropical Storm Lee devastated the Danville Middle School in Danville, Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of the storm, the auditorium was 8 feet under water and several feet of standing water were found in most classrooms, hallways, the library, the cafeteria, and the gymnasium. After only a few days, the metal lockers in the hallways were rusting from exposure to the contaminated floodwater and every single metal locker in the school had to be replaced.

Photo courtesy of Scranton Products. Cologne Academy, Cologne, MN.

HDPE lockers have earned GREENGUARD Gold certification and are recognized as a low-emitting material.


The typical painted metal has low resistance to graffiti and attempting to remove ill-placed scribbles is often difficult and can leave a ghosting mark, which continues to compromise the overall aesthetic of the locker and can leave a facility manager with no other choice but to repaint the lockers.

Introducing High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Lockers

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) material brings solutions to the durability concerns from both designers and facility personnel. HDPE is one of the most commonly used plastics in the United States. It is regularly found in milk jugs, plastic bags, and yogurt cups. Solid HDPE is used to fabricate the lockers and can also be found in bathroom partitions, shower stalls, and playground equipment.

It is the solid nature of the HDPE used in the locker that gives this product its improved durability. HDPE lockers are made of ½-inch-thick rigid HDPE plastic, more than eight times thicker than the locker panels made of 16-gauge steel.

HDPE lockers were found to be 59 times more impact resistant than a typical metal locker.

HDPE lockers were found to be 59 times more impact resistant than a typical metal locker.

In order to quantify the difference in impact resistance offered by both locker materials, tests were conducted according to ASTM International standard D2444 (Standard Test Method for Determination of the Impact Resistance of Thermoplastic Pipe and Fittings by Means of a Tup [Falling Weight]). During these tests, a 100-pound weight was dropped on the traditional metal material and the HDPE material. The weight created a dent measuring 0.292 inches deep in the traditional metal surface and only 0.003 inches deep in the HDPE surface. The dent in the metal surface is more than 97 times deeper than the dent left in the HDPE surface.

Beyond a tougher exterior, the solid HDPE material will never delaminate or need painting because it is a solid piece of plastic that is uniformly colored throughout. The color is physically integrated into the material, not added on top of it at a later stage as a coating or laminate.

An HDPE locker provides an impermeable, non-porous surface that protects the locker from being damaged by water or graffiti. These lockers withstand exposure to moisture without corroding and, because the locker is made from plastic and not iron or steel, exposure to water will not cause the locker to rust. Graffiti wipes off easily with most non-abrasive cleaners. This can significantly reduce the time that facilities personnel must spend maintaining the lockers. As Robert Gannon, director of facilities at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, New Jersey, explains. “Maintaining metal lockers was a nightmare. When we installed HDPE lockers, we cut our maintenance time from three to four weeks to just two to three days. The amount of time spent on cleaning graffiti went from days to minutes. I couldn't be happier.”

It should also be noted that HDPE lockers satisfy the fire rating for school corridors and are NFPA 286 compliant. Select manufacturers offer HDPE lockers that satisfy the fire rating.

Although the HDPE lockers offer widespread benefits to a school application as a result of the improved durability of the product, it is not enough to simply be stronger in today's building products marketplace. Designers are in need of the best product for the application in a package that contributes toward the green or sustainable design objectives of the project.

Sustainability Features of an HDPE Locker

Sustainable design is based around the tenets of creating buildings, schools, and interior spaces that are healthy, comfortable, productive, and environmentally friendly in terms of energy efficiency, materials usage, and even waste disposal. Student lockers made from HDPE contribute toward the goals of sustainable design in multiple ways. From being a fully recyclable product that can, in itself, contain a significant amount of recycled content, to protecting the quality of the interior environment as a low-emitting product and reducing the hallway noise pollution with softer operating noise levels, the HDPE locker solution supports sustainable design goals.

Fully Recyclable

A recyclable product can be remanufactured back into the original product or something else rather than heading for a landfill after its first useful life has ended. HDPE is easily recyclable and can be used again and again. Moreover, recycled HDPE creates no harmful emissions during its production or during its use.

Photo courtesy of Scranton Products. Danville Elementary School, Danville, PA.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in January 2015