It’s no wonder that maintenance and cleaning professionals have a real challenge when it comes to public restrooms in places like stadiums, theaters and concert halls.
Restroom users commonly have the shroud of anonymity or the sense that “this isn’t mine so I can make a big mess.”
To add insult to injury, in stadiums that cater to sports or rock music fans, emotions can run high and are easily taken out on an innocent restroom stall.
The condition of these public restrooms can leave a lasting impression about the entire venue and speak volumes about how much management cares about customer experiences.
So how are such large entertainment and sports businesses making restroom amenities nicer looking and lower maintenance, not to mention addressing public health concerns about spreading superbugs and everyday viruses?
A great place to start is when restroom materials are specified, so they can be evaluated to stand up to destruction and varying levels of hygienic behaviors as well as being easy to clean.
One material that is performing well in these environments and being specified more and more by building managers and designers is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a sustainable material for restroom stall partitions.
This material lends itself well to the new, modern designs, whereas traditional materials like metal can rust, dent or scratch and can become an eyesore in a short amount of time.
Cleaning can also be a problem with wood or metal, and mars and crevices in these surfaces can harbor bacteria.
That is why HDPE designed to look like metallic or wood finishes is becoming popular, both by aesthetic-minded designers and maintenance managers who oversee cleaning staffs.
For example, as part of a major renovation at U.S. Cellular Field, home of baseball’s Chicago White Sox, HDPE materials were selected for their design versatility, cleanliness, vandalism resistance and reduced cleaning and maintenance costs.
“There is enormous traffic in our bathrooms day in and day out throughout the season,” says Don Esposito, senior director of purchasing, construction and maintenance for the Chicago White Sox and their home field. “This includes meeting the needs of up to 2.5 million attendees annually who have been known to express either joy or frustration in various ways.”
Esposito’s specification process is far more intensive than most.
“We required materials that fit the modern, clean and upscale design of our stadium, while holding up to rowdy fans within a cost frame that fits our budget.”
Esposito knows the tough demands of keeping a baseball park running by finding new building materials and overseeing repairs, cleaning and maintenance.
After consulting with a distribution company, Esposito selected black partitions with a hammered texture for the ballpark’s 320 restroom stalls.
The distribution company was involved in all phases of the bathroom renovations from 2011 to 2013, assisting Esposito with the specification process and performing all of the demolition of the old partitions and installation of the new ones.
Restrooms at U.S. Cellular Field have exposed, heavy-duty steel beams, which offered fantastic support for the ceiling hung partitions.
Because of the high level of traffic in the bathrooms, it was recommended that the White Sox consider continuous brackets and hinges which offer added rigidity to the toilet partition system.
The ceiling-hung design was also more conducive to the cleaning process.
“Nothing touches the floor for even easier and thorough cleaning,” Esposito says. “The cost savings have allowed more investment in quality materials and upgrades for the stadium.”
He says the facility’s cleaning staff was also immediately impressed with the partitions’ resistance to graffiti.
“Our maintenance routine involves power washing the restrooms between each game,” Esposito states. “With the new HDPE partitions, the process now takes far less time and labor for our cleaning staff, which needs to react quickly and efficiently when we host a doubleheader or more than one event in a single day.”
Along with the ease of cleaning is the inherent ability of HDPE to resist bacteria.
Bacteria is becoming a widespread and often dangerous health concern for anyone who goes to public places touched by tens of thousands of people.
Doris Witte of HDR Inc., who a few years ago helped redesign the restrooms at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, says her firm does about 90 percent healthcare designs, so they know how bacteria can spread in a public restroom.
“From a cleanliness point of view, you can steam clean the stalls without worry of rust, and bacteria cannot live on the HDPE surface for very long,” she explains.
Witte expressed similar concerns about damage and vandalism of stadium restrooms.
She noted that whether their Creighton University Blue Jays are winning or losing, college baseball fans at TD Ameritrade stadium are a tough crowd when it comes to graffiti.
But she says stadium owner MECA also owns the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha, which hosts sporting events and concerts and has been through the repair and replacement process from vandalism.
“We tested the HDPE partitions with the owners, who took knives, keys, markers, pens, you name it, and tried to damage the material,” Witte says. “This was the least destructible material we’ve come across.”
In similar venues that are aiming for the upscale audiences, luxurious looks are also part of the restroom equation, according to designers of the LOOK Cinema in Addison, Texas, which opened last year.
When you combine fine dining with revolutionary movie-viewing on enormous silver screens and Dolby Atmos cinema sound, the restroom design had better measure up.
Master-minded by the entrepreneurial team of Rave Motion Picture founder Tom Stephenson, Brian Maso and New York restaurateur Joseph Palladino, LOOK Cinema features a massive 11-screen, 1,900-seat stadium theater.
In addition to watching the latest films in oversized power-reclining chairs with waiter service, viewers also have the option of valet parking, reserved seating and dining in or out of the theaters on unique bistro favorites and gourmet comfort food.
According to Tony Pleskow, the principal founder of Pleskow Architects of Venice, California, LOOK Cinema wanted to push the boundaries by creating an atmosphere that is more closely associated with museums than traditional movie theaters.
“We had to carefully choose all of our products based on very specific aesthetics as well as the expectation of 800,000 people visiting the complex annually for years to come, and this extended to the restrooms.”
James Renny Caleca, project manager at Pleskow Architects in charge of the specification process, went with HDPE partitions due to their durability, designer colors and rugged design.
“The key to the project was finding an alternative to expensive stainless steel restroom partitions and the metallic looks of the HDPE partitions had the aesthetic of stainless steel without the high cost.”
As HDPE products continue to evolve for public stadiums and other venues, the bar is raised to meet higher design aesthetics and easier cleaning while enduring the “unnecessary roughness” of thousands of users annually.
There are a few more challenging time-tested environments for these and other materials that are scoring high in the sports and entertainment world.