All Washed Up?

Although the reasons for bathroom and laundry room renovations range from mere aesthetic improvements to necessity, there is almost always more to these projects than meets the eye. With fast-track initiatives so prevalent in today’s college renovation arena, organization and planning become imperative to complete a wetroom retrofit. For best results, consider these suggestions from experienced renovators.

1. Do Your Homework Before Renovating

"We’re doing fast-track projects within a two- to four-week schedule," says Michael Steger, who serves as National Management Resources Corp.’s on-site manager for West Palm Beach Atlantic College in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Doing our homework is critical because we don’t have time for any surprises." Here are some specific ideas for doing your homework.

- Assess the existing situation by closely examining the conditions before you begin. "We go in and cut holes to check pipes and know what we are getting into," says Steger. Once you get inside that wall, you’re stuck dealing with whatever you uncover. "Then you are forced to be reactive."

- Make sure contractors have the correct materials on-hand and order spares of special orders. It might cost a little more, but if a plumber is walking up the stairs with a special-order toilet and drops it, the entire project is off schedule.

- Remember the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Guidelines are clear for new construction. However, renovations can present unique challenges depending on the age of the building and the extent of the project.

- Consider all the trades. "Don’t just think about the plumbing," says Steger. He says that, on a recent restroom renovation, "we had to remember that there was an electrical aspect of our project that needed to be brought up to code."

- Specify high-quality fixtures and products. "You get what you pay for here," says Steger. "These rooms take a lot of abuse."

- Whenever possible, build in a contingency plan on everything, including labor and materials.

2. Define Your Project

In order to define a project fully, the technical aspects need to be considered. In addition, an important part of today’s planning involves the students. Research the users to determine what they think is important, functional and convenient. Then define the goal.

3. Plan With Some Versatility in Mind

"During planning for laundry rooms at Duke University in Durham, N.C., we asked ourselves, ‘What else can, and should, it [the room] do?’" says Jerry Black, director of the facilities management department.

In addition to the obvious, officials - with input from students - decided the laundry rooms should also serve as a social area, provide a climate for studying and provide security for students. "We included tables, computer ports and lounge furniture in the laundry rooms," says Black. An emergency phone, telephones and an accessible fire alarm are also included to address security concerns.

When it comes to the versatility of bathrooms, keep the following ideas in mind.

- The individual need for privacy remains prevalent. "I think the days of gang showers are long gone," says Black. Even in the campus sports club bathroom, Duke University provides individual shower and dressing areas.

- Assume that occupants will change. A bathroom used exclusively by female students may serve male students in the future. Remember, in most cases, male and female students may be looking for different amenities. However, they aren’t necessarily the amenities you might expect. "We have found that there is just as much of a demand for built-in hair dryers in male-occupied bathrooms as there are in female bathrooms," says Steger. The most requested amenities in female-occupied areas include larger mirrors and more or larger counter space.

"In order to remain happy with your results years down the road, the versatility of the space is important," says Steger.

4. Befriend Inspectors

If your project will be under permit, try to bring in an inspector during the planning stages. "I’ve gone out of my way to become friends with the building inspectors," says Steger. "A lot of times they won’t come in to a project early but, if you can get on their good side, they are a great source of help and information. I pick their brains and ask them what they’re looking for when they’re doing an inspection. I also ask about the disaster stories they see out there every day so that I can avoid them."

5. Incorporate Delivery Penalties Into Contracts

While most decision-makers now write contracts that involve a financial penalty for a supplier who doesn’t deliver on time, they are typically for larger contract projects. Consider using this practice for all contracts, even the little ones.

"This is where we were taking a beating," says Steger. In the case of a simple replacement of tile backer board, the existing tile and backer board was removed, putting the shower area out of commission. However, the replacement product wasn’t available when it was scheduled to be. "It doesn’t have to be a $40,000 project," says Steger. "An $800 project can put you in a tight spot."

6. Follow Up

After a project is completed, make sure it’s tested and the room is turned over to students in a clean and livable manner. Many times construction crews don’t take responsibility for the messes they make. "We make the cleaning and testing a part of the contractor’s responsibility," says Steger. "For us, painters have been consistently troublesome. I tell them that they have been hired to paint and make the area look nice, not to leave a mess on the floors."

Lisa Jackson is a freelance writer based near Dallas with experience in higher education issues.

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