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Schools: Rethinking Restroom, Shower Room & Locker Room Design

As seen in School Planning & Management.

When it comes to restroom, shower room, and locker room design, school administrators have traditionally wanted the usual: durability and ease of maintenance. Achieving that durability has traditionally been accomplished via gang-style restrooms in which rows of stalls, created by short dividers, face rows of sinks; open shower rooms outfitted with multiple shower heads; and locker rooms filled with rows of lockers and benchers. There’s no doubt that these designs allow for easy maintenance and repair of plumbing, fixtures and HVAC equipment.

While cost savings, durability, and ease of maintenance are still important, administrators also desire safety, and for all students to feel comfortable using restrooms, shower rooms, and locker rooms. [A] consideration in the rethinking of restroom design specifically is gender inclusivity. Providing gender-inclusive restrooms is still in flux on the legal front. There was guidance from the Office of Civil Rights in May 2016 that interpreted “sex” under Title IX to mean gender orientation and the mandating of schools to accommodate transgender requests.

“But the new federal administration has called back that guidance to study it and a make a decision if it’s even an issue the federal government needs to address, or if the states should wrangle with it as far as what’s appropriate in their jurisdictions,” says Katie Anderson, an attorney with Dallas-based Strasburger & Price, LLP. “We have no reason to believe that accommodating transgender students will be required under this administration, and it will take years for the situations to be resolved, as I don’t see any shortcuts.”

In the meantime, a change from traditional school restroom design requires new design consideration. At this point, neither administrators nor architects have quick or easy answers.

“How do we treat everyone with dignity and respect?” adds Anderson. “How do we make this the most agreeable for most students, regardless of what the law says?”

Anderson encourages administrators to keep having design conversations. “I hope administrators will continue to work in the best interest of their students, which they traditionally have done because they have huge hearts for them,” she says. “That may mean taking legal risks, and they have to consider parents. But they have to take care of their students, and I hope they have the courage to make the best decisions for them with input from all sources. They might have to think a little creatively.”

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