For most campus recreation professionals, lowering the barrier to fitness for as many students as possible is the ultimate goal. Professionals around the U.S. are finding locker rooms to be a key component in achieving that goal.
Take the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness as an example. The new facility opened in April 2016, and creating a locker room space that met the needs of all students and patrons was important in the design process.
“As a staff we discussed what would work best and what we liked in other facilities we visited,” said Jill M. Beville, the director of recreation and wellness at the Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness. “For us, we made decisions to meet the needs of our students and other patrons, while also considering how the design choices would impact daily operations.”
These considerations resulted in the Leonard J. Kaplan Center for Wellness’ locker rooms having a unique layout. Instead of traditional rows of lockers, lockers are broken up into distinct sections, similar to pods.
“All the lockers are the same size, with two individual changing rooms in each locker room, grooming stations and individual showers,” explained Beville. “Also, only one pod of lockers has built-in benches — we have teak wood stools that can be moved around to meet individual needs.”
Another important consideration was incorporating family changing rooms. “We did not have a family changing space in the other facility,” said Beville. “We knew it was something we needed and wanted in the new facility and incorporated those spaces in the earliest discussions for the new facility. For us, it was best practices to include the family changing spaces. We also have several single-use restrooms in the facility. They are used regularly by a variety of patrons and have been appreciated by many.”
In addition, the facility boasts day-use and rental lockers in each locker room, and bright tile around the sinks and grooming stations to create a welcoming atmosphere.
UC Berkeley Rec Sports in Berkeley, California, also knows the importance locker rooms can have in lowering the barrier to fitness. As a result, it offers free locks and towels to all patrons to ensure they have a great experience.
“We provide no-charge towels and locks for the lockers at every visit,” said Michael Neuwald, the associate director of facilities and maintenance at Berkeley Rec Sports. “That winds up costing us a lot of money, but our director from the beginning has always wanted to provide that service for our students.”
According to Neuwald, cleanliness is another key factor to providing a welcoming atmosphere for the average 5,000 patrons who visit the rec center daily. As a result, the rec department boasts a full-time, in-house custodial staff. “We go out of our way to keep the facility clean and sanitized,” he said. “We also do an end-of-night-time shift sanitize, and we do that every day.”
To further the experience for students, in 2018 Berkeley Rec Sports’ Recreational Sports Facility will be under a renovation to include a gender-neutral locker room. “We’ll be taking space out of locker rooms now — men’s and women’s — and creating a gender neutral locker room, which we’re all pretty excited about,” said Neuwald. “There’s been some strong requests by student groups on campus. We’ve secured funding and we’re going to go ahead and do it.”
For Alex Accetta, the assistant vice president of Campus Rec and Student Union Services at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, incorporating single-use or universal spaces within your campus recreation center is a no-brainer. However, deciding how to define the space can be a challenge.
“There is a discussion around, ‘How are people defining these spaces?’” explained Accetta. “We didn’t feel like we could get to a solution that meant what we were trying to say, so we just went with nothing but pictures.”
The pictures boast a shower, toilet and sink, versus saying “men” or “women.” However, there is one sign that says, “These rooms have priority use for people who want a single space area or who have physical disabilities.” It’s a subtle thing that simply asks patrons to be aware, said Accetta.
Portland State University’s campus recreation facilities boast both gender-identified locker rooms and single-use spaces. The men and women locker rooms have private changing areas, in addition to a wide bench, to ensure people with disabilities can be easily accommodated. “For locker rooms, you have to have big wide benches so people in chairs and bigger people can have a place they can sit on,” said Accetta.
In addition, a student group partnered with the campus recreation department to make menstrual products widely available in both the women’s locker room and single-use spaces. “We have a student group that’s done it, that’s gotten the materials and we just put them out,” said Accetta. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s a nice [offering to have].”
Again, lowering the barrier to fitness for as many students as possible is key and is a goal that can be accomplished through free towel and locker service, gender-neutral spaces or accommodations for people with disabilities. The key is identifying what students both want and need, and ensuring no one gets left behind.