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JoAnn Hindmarsh Wilcox and Kurt Haapala

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How to Design School Restrooms for Increased Comfort, Safety and Gender-Inclusivity

Northwood Elementary School in the Mercer Island School District. Image © Benjamin Benschneider
Northwood Elementary School in the Mercer Island School District. Image © Benjamin Benschneider

This article was originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Why Architects Must Rethink Restroom Design in Schools."

"Gang style" bathrooms, in which rows of stalls are installed opposite rows of wash basins and designated only for males or for females, have been de rigueur in educational facilities for the last hundred years. They involve predictable plumbing, mechanical exhaust, and fixture costs. Short doors and divider walls allow for the passive monitoring of behavior.

Relinquishing this traditional bathroom model is daunting, since individual toilet rooms can significantly increase costs through additional plumbing, ductwork, ventilation, partitions, doors and hardware. These designs many times require additional space, trigger further ADA compliance, and invalidate some USGBC LEED points. Moreover, school districts typically have limited budgets, established facilities, and deep-rooted social practices.