The Ultimate College Bathroom

When it comes to bathrooms there’s no place like home. But we all know of a public restroom that runs a close second; a favorite place for a pit stop that never disappoints. And then there’s its evil twin; a bathroom so heinous that only the most dire emergencies force you across that portal door. What makes these bathrooms so distinctive and how can you keep your necessary rooms special? The answers may surprise you.

Everyone agrees on what makes a bad bathroom bad: dated, funky fixtures; old, steel partitions; and areas that never seem to be clean enough have end users turning up their noses — or worse. “If a bathroom looks or smells bad to start with students just don’t take good care of it,” says Mike Steger, director, National Resources Corporation for Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University. The maintenance staff may view the space as a lost cause as well. “That perpetuates a downward spiral.”

“There’s nothing worse than a bathroom that looks and feels unsanitary, with paper and water all over the place,” says Al Zimmerman, adjunct faculty, Portland Community College, Oregon. “I realize schools don’t have the custodial budget they used to, but poorly maintained, broken, or dirty restrooms are just sad.”

“Our custodial staff is top notch,” raves Colby Kish, junior, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD. “But they can’t do anything about the older bathrooms. Sure they’re clean, but they’re out of date. For instance, they have really small sinks with push faucets that just don’t stay on.”

“Some administrations treat bathrooms like the HVAC system,” says Steger. “As long as everything works, everything is fine. We have a new administration that puts renovation and remodeling on the front burner and that means better, more comfortable bathrooms.”

High-Tech Hand Dryers: Cost-Effective and Green
People remain divided on just what makes those bathrooms better and more comfortable. The most controversial component is hand dryers. Granted, these machines have come a long way since the old, “push the button, rub your wet hands under some air for two minutes, then give up and wipe your still-wet hands on your pants,” remembers Mike Robert, vice president of sales and technology, American Dryer, Inc. “Today’s dryers are high-speed, low-power, energy-efficient, and basically maintenance free.”

“We have dryers that cost $35 to $80 a year to operate,” says Cyrus Boatwalla, director of marketing, ASI Group. “Compare that to $1,200 a year for paper towels that often end up on the floor or stuffed into the commode as a prank.”

Some end users love air dryers, others… not so much. “My school just did a big bathroom remodel and they installed these incredibly high-tech units that dry your hands in a few seconds,” notes Zimmerman. “At first I questioned the sensibility of the expense but the school hung a poster above each unit explaining why the dryers are better than paper and how much energy and landfill space they save. Now I love the technology and how green they are.”

“I like paper towels better,” counters Kish. “They are faster and the dryers just blow bacteria all over your hands.” Maria Weitzel, sophomore, Oregon State agrees, “Paper towels are just faster,” she says. “Although I admit that hand dryers are better for the environment.”

To combat the rumors about the hygiene of hand dryers, companies infuse internal components with antimicrobial agents and install triple HEPA filters. “I don’t know that we need the filter, but the public wants it so we include it,” says Boatwalla. “The real danger is a heap of moist paper towels. Bacteria will really breed there.”

Automating Other Functions

Electronic and other high-tech options in the bathroom abound, each with their gallery of fans and detractors. “We are considering electronic toilets that flush automatically,” says Steger. “Of course there are maintenance issues with them. You have to change the batteries, and there are extra internal components, but those are minor in the grand scheme.”

“Schools like the cleanliness that automatic toilets bring,” says Kristin Meyers, marketing and product management, Moen Commercial. “They allow designers to create a pleasing, home-like decor that stands up to robust use.”

What do the students think of automatic toilets? “They creep me out,” says Weitzel with a laugh. “They always flush before I’m done. I prefer to flush with my foot.” Kish disagrees and is ready to go one step further. “The best bathrooms have automatic everything, including those new non-flush, waterless urinals,” he states. “Those are sweet.”

Bathroom Décor Vs. Ease of Maintenance

As far as the décor of bathrooms, students and administration want, “a sleek, corporate look in the public bathrooms and a homey, residential feel in the dorm rooms,” according to Steger. Shannon Staten, director of housing and residence life, University of Louisville, agrees. Her school has a mix of dorm bathrooms, from apartments to suites with shared baths to old-style communal restrooms with toilets, sinks, and showers.

“We strive to make those communal bathrooms as residential-looking as possible,” she states. That means a continuous countertop with sinks mounted underneath and their plumbing hidden with a panel. Gone are the long, industrial mirrors, instead a framed single mirror hangs over each sink. Warm light bathes the area. “Of course if I had the budget I would gut those spaces entirely and find a way to create five or six individual bathrooms with a sink, toilet, and shower. That would create a lot of privacy and solve any transgender issues.”

Staten’s dream, however, would be the maintenance department’s nightmare. “My physical plant people want everything exposed, even the pipes in the shower,” she says. “That makes everything easier to clean and fix. And those bowl sinks that are all the rage now? Custodial staff hates them.”

Keeping the janitors happy is important because they work hard to keep bathrooms pleasant. “They should conduct a solid, deep clean daily, six to seven days a week in high-traffic areas,” instructs Steger. “And busy bathrooms, like ones in the student center, need a walk through every hour or two.”

Or we could move to the Japanese model. “In Japan they don’t have custodial staff,” tells Zimmerman. “Every Friday work stops early and students do the cleaning.”

That would be the most home-like option of all. 

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