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Mick Massey, RLA

Trends in Locker Room Design

Trends in Locker Room Design

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, a locker room was a cavernous, uncomfortable, smelly public space whose functional design focused less on personal space and more on efficiently serving a large number of people. The average locker room experience was the same for my Dad, and oddly enough, locker rooms did not evolve or improve from his boyhood to mine. In those days, the typical recreation center locker rooms were modeled after High School athletic locker rooms serving the masses for personal hygiene and dressing after a vigorous sport or workout. This “old school” locker room model was accepted as status quo and adapted into recreation centers for decades.

Old school locker rooms may be our heritage, but recreation facility operators know the critical role modern locker rooms play in increasing participation, streamlining operations and enhancing customer experience. This once common place and often forgotten space in the building is now part of progressive business plans driving the design of modern recreation facilities and providing revenue potential. Service-minded professionals recognize the importance of the locker room to the customer, and as a result, ever-evolving and paradigm shifting locker room design is now at the forefront of recreation center planning.

Much discussion about what should be included in a new community recreation center revolves around activity spaces; i.e. how many gyms, how many lanes in the lap pool and how many meeting rooms. The size and quality of these spaces is conceived in great detail. Rarely, however, does the discussion explore the spaces required to support these activities, in particular the variety and quality of the locker rooms. If we take a step back and look at the building program, we should ask “what are the barriers to participation?” After all, civic decision-makers typically seek solutions that can benefit as many citizens as possible. It is one thing to build a terrific activity space, but it’s another to maximize participation in activities and optimize its usefulness. The answers predictably involve location, programming, and fees. Often underestimated is the power of a well-considered locker room experience.

Locker rooms are personal. Very personal. It is your customer’s personal space, and it’s important to your success that your customer feels good about this personal of a space. Happy customers mean a happy bottom line which leads to happy bosses and elected officials. What could possibly go wrong with this logic? Plenty! Often marginalized during the design process, modern locker rooms take thought and commitment throughout the entire design process. Delivering maximum recreation space is often the highest priority and when budgets are challenged, the temptation is to save money by reducing locker room quality. Resist this temptation!

Modern locker rooms accommodate a wide variety of users, are easy to clean, are durable, have ease of maintenance, and of course, are safe. A good architect seeks to understand best practices in these areas while continually looking for innovative improvements. Let’s focus on something really cool, like the next generation of locker room concepts which have recently been built and are currently being tested in Provo, Utah; Olathe, Kansas; and Grapevine, Texas. These examples are living laboratories, testing both incremental refinements and new paradigms. These modern recreation centers explore the concept of personal space with “cabanas.” Cabanas are a series of full-service personal bathrooms adjoining an open community space of individual lockers in a variety of sizes. The key to the cabana concept is their ability to accommodate the widest variety of patrons.

Cabanas are places to coral your three kids while managing beach bags full of towels, dry clothes, shoes, diapers, etc. Cabanas provide patrons with disabilities a convenient and private space with access to all locker room amenities. Cabanas provide an added level of privacy and convenience to patrons recovering from injuries or surgeries, or even accommodate patrons with gender orientation concerns. Active aging members love cabanas because a helper, or aid, can assist them through their personal needs with dignity, even if that assistant is of the opposite sex. A fully-appointed cabana has a shower, toilet, lavatory, baby changing station, dressing bench, hair/hand dryer and enough space for a family to change clothes in privacy. A decade of locker room evolution has dictated that in order for a facility’s locker room to be deemed successful, cabanas must be included.

Let’s examine the locker room’s importance beyond just support space. The modern locker room becomes the heart of the building for the patron. That is why the design and the selection of the materials is so important to the success of the locker room. For example, a well-made locker has materials that do not rust and is clean, inviting, safe, and accessible. The well-made locker is available in many sizes to accommodate a variety of needs.

This same design approach applies to all surfaces of the modern locker room which have to be easy to clean, safe, slip-resistant, and inviting, with ease of access. Beyond all this, patrons will tell you the locker room can make or break their experience in your facility. This statement is the certainty that we must evolve the locker room’s form and function towards the wants and needs of the customer.

We must challenge the locker room concept of the past. The first family changing room was in the East Boulder Recreation Center, which opened in 1992. Today, family rooms are required by building code all over the United States and the modern world. The first family changing room was the answer to a challenge that we could do better. The modern day recreation center cabana takes the family room to the next level and even accommodates multiple generations. When the cost is weighed against the return of satisfied users over time, the return on the investment is obvious.

The cabana concept has been around for two decades or so, making it no longer innovative. What is innovative is how the cabana is synergistic with the concept of a community locker space within a facility. Many facilities currently contain cabanas in conjunction with separate gender-specific locker rooms. Consider the idea that there is no longer a need for cavernous gender-separate, old-school locker rooms when a combination of cabanas and gender-specific restrooms can provide the privacy and function of the old school locker room. Imagine an array of locker selections – from over-sized to accommodate the gear of an entire family to smaller-sized for the single person doing a quick workout – in close proximity to cabanas in a community space that is open and inviting, with natural light and clean air at just the right temperature. It’s a locker room with open views to corridors above, the second floor fitness facility, or the walking track. The second floor activities are visually symbiotic with the locker room below, making the two spaces visually connected and sharing the same air and light. The benefit of a community locker space is it meets the needs of a variety of users in a smaller footprint, thus helping to maximize the facility efficiency.

As social paradigms shift toward services that are specific to the individual’s needs, is there any doubt the recreation locker room will evolve to meet those needs? The smart recreation service provider understands a quality customer experience begins and ends in their personal space. Whether a facility will be new from the ground up or an operator is considering a renovation, the locker room space should be an imperative part of the planning and design. Consider the evolution we’ve seen over the last twenty years and the new innovations the industry is applying to this long-forgotten space when you’re planning your next facility – it’s certainly not your Daddy’s locker room any longer.

Posted by Mick Massey, RLA on July 31, 2015 at 05:08pm

Tags: trends (2), locker rooms (1)

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