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Tips for Your Locker Room Renovation

Time for a locker room upgrade? Fitness center managers offer advice on how to know when it is time to renovate your locker rooms, how to choose the right suppliers, how to deal with locker room closures and how to keep it all looking brand new.

Think back to your high school's locker room. Was it dark or too bright from fluorescent lights? Did it have "gang" showers, not have enough room to move, always have a musty sort of smell? If any of this sounds familiar, it better be because these horrible locker rooms made a deep impression on you, and not because your own fitness center's locker rooms resemble these old locker areas in any way. Fitness facility locker rooms today look (and smell) much better than they used to. In fact, they often resemble those of resorts or country clubs. They include quiet lockers with room to hang clothes, more flattering lighting, private changing areas, calming colors, and a host of amenities such as hair dryers, towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion and more. While your fitness center might not be five-star caliber, it should be clean, comfortable and safe for your members. If you think it may be time to update your locker rooms, survey your members and do your research, as always, before embarking on any major renovation. In the meantime, your peers offer some advice on how to navigate the renovation process.

When is it time to renovate?

Your first question should be, "Do I actually need to renovate my locker rooms?" Do they look dated, dirty or dark? Do you have a mold problem, not enough lockers or not enough mirror space? Mike Dupuis, executive director of HealthWorks Fitness Center, El Dorado, Ark., says, "What influenced our decision to add and renovate were compaction, old tile and available capital."

Tips from a New Build

Grainger Fitness Center in Lake Forest, Ill. (managed by Advocate Healthcare), is a corporate fitness center that is only seven years old, so "it isn't in need of renovations," says Manager Sharon Godlewski. "However, we did discover a few helpful hints from the construction process that may assist in a renovation," she says. Here are Godlewski's tips for a new locker room build or renovation: 1. Make sure the floor in the main shower area has non-slip tile, and that the floor is sloped slightly to allow excess water to flow to the floor drains. 2. Make sure that the floor in the shower also has its own individual drain. 3. Once the tile is laid, put a sealant on the grout, or mildew will build up that is difficult to get rid of. "We had to sand down all of the grout between each tile to make it white, and then have it sealed," Godlewski explains. "This was a very time-consuming project for the maintenance staff, [who had] to complete [it] on weekends, which is time-and-a-half. It's much cheaper to make sure it is done correctly the first time." 4. For the drainage system in the locker rooms, find out if there is a way to keep the sewer valves in the floors from opening. "Periodically, our locker rooms smell like rotten eggs, and we have to pour water down the drains to close the sewer valves," Godlewski says. 5. If you offer towel service, have the towel chute go directly into the laundry room. Preferably, have it located in a central location between the locker rooms. This increases the efficiency of the laundry process. 6. Make sure the dryer duct ventilation route doesn't have too many sharp turns. This can result in build-up of dryer lint, which can cause the dryers to not cool efficiently. When dryers get overheated, they turn off. 7. Make sure your hot water heater is powerful enough to heat the water to a high enough temperature, especially if the water has to travel a ways to the locker room. "We considered installing a booster hot water heater close to the fitness center, as Grainger's building is very large and the water wasn't staying warm enough. We ended up installing three hot water heaters to solve this problem," says Godlewski. Also, most hot water heaters need to be drained of chemical build-up regularly, or the lifespan of the water heater is shortened.
Janet Schumacher, area operations manager/program director, Lockheed Martin Employee Connection, Sunnyvale, Calif. (managed by HACK), received some member feedback about the facility's locker areas: "Our members are very verbal, and many had suggested it was time for a change." Schumacher already knew, however, that it was time for a change. "Our lockers were outdated, rusty and in need of replacement," she says. "Our utilization is high, and more lockers were needed to meet our demands. Based on our growing membership and utilization, we needed more lockers to accommodate our peak periods. We also had some flooring issues that required replacement," she explains. Eric Casaburi, CEO, Retrofitness Enterprises, Manalapan, N.J., warns against waiting for members to complain: "If you wait for your members to tell you to renovate your locker rooms (or any area of your club), it's too late. Members use club maintenance/upgrades as their measuring stick as part of their assessment of 'service.'" And bad service could mean you have already lost some members. Keeping locker rooms clean and maintained to begin with could save you some money down the road on renovations. Joe Mullen, president of Fitness Therapy Publishing, Sanford, Fla., and former owner of eight fitness centers, says, "The locker rooms [where I worked] were kept spotless, by continuous cleaning and repairs, as needed." Mark Roozen, owner/director of Performance Zone, Granbury, Texas, agrees with this tactic: "We haven't had to renovate our locker rooms because we're a newer facility, but we try to upgrade all the time. We believe if we keep adding new things, taking care of small details all the time, we won't have to have a big renovation down the road, which can be very costly."

What should a renovation include?

What your locker room renovation includes will obviously depend on the needs of your facility. Do you just need new lockers and flooring, or do you need to tear down your entire shower area? Roozen of Performance Zone offers some suggestions when it comes to making the big decisions: "'Look Through Many Eyes' is our motto. We listen to staff, management, members and our rep who sells us cleaning supplies, who can see what other facilities - not just health clubs - are doing to keep their restrooms/locker rooms new and fresh." Mullen of Fitness Therapy Publishing says that flooring and fixtures should be updated on an "as needed" basis, or "on a perceived will-be-needed-shortly" basis. "No attempt [should be] made to adapt to every fad. ... Basic, traditional motifs [should be] used, which never go out of style," he says. Roozen agrees that you should stick to the basics: "Keep up with the times, but also look at what is long term. For example, we went with tile in our bathroom that was neutral - that could go with a number of different colors on the walls. ... By using neutral colors, we can change the color in our locker rooms by using accent colors, different trim colors, painting the walls a different color, etc. This makes the room look new and improved, but with minor cost to the business," he says. If you are still unsure about what to upgrade, start small. Roozen recommends to have your floors professionally cleaned every few months. "Also, change out the soap dishes in the showers to keep them fresh and looking new, and exchange the sink fixtures when they start to look bad (stained, water spots, etc.)," he says. Also, re-painting is a lot less expensive than replacing tile. Schumacher from Lockheed Martin Employee Connection recommends asking members what they think needs to be done. "We gathered information from member surveys," she says. Also, "Tour other facilities to see what you like and dislike." Mullen agrees that talking to your members is important. He says to poll members to find out what they like and dislike about the locker rooms. "If any suggestions or complaints are offered, we make it a practice to talk personally with each member so we can better understand their point of view," he says.

Choosing suppliers

After figuring out what needs to be done in your locker rooms, you'll need to find the right company for the job. Dupuis of HealthWorks says to use experts who have experience with locker rooms. "You need special ventilation, special carpeting, good tile work and [the right] colors," he says.
Before and after shots of the locker room renovation at Lockheed Martin Employee Connection, Sunnyvale, Calif.
Schumacher says to do your homework. "We toured several corporate and commercial facilities, and spoke with several locker room vendors," she says. "If possible, work with a facilities engineer to ensure adequate spacing and ADA accommodations," she adds. Get references, says Casaburi, and "put these people on specific deadlines for completion [so] your project will move along smoother." Your biggest concern is probably what all of your renovations will cost, and Dupuis offers some guidelines in this area. "Set aside at least 10 percent of the total renovation for contingency (15 percent if you can afford it). Trust me, you will find items once you open up floors and walls! We spent $200 per square foot on our new rooms. Locker rooms are the most expensive areas of any facility. I would also add two to four weeks onto whatever construction schedule you receive. Keep the penalties in place, which, in our case, amounted to $500 per day (for business interruption). Don't forget to leave some money for clean up." To complete your locker rooms' new looks, you may want to consider a new supplier for your amenities. Says Roozen, "We used two different companies before we locked into the one we use now. Our main reason was [that its] prices were competitive, but that wasn't the only reason. [More important was that] the rep was there to serve us and, in the long run, our members. He sets up education times to [meet] with staff to let them know what items to use where. For example, that there is a different cleaner/disinfectant for toilets than for showers and sinks; and that what you use on the mirrors might not be best for wiping down the front of the lockers. He is almost like a staff member helping us and the facility operate at a better level of quality and service."

Keeping members informed

Your members have already offered their input on what your locker rooms could use, and it is equally important to keep them in the loop when the project begins. Mullen says to give "plenty of notice" about when renovations will take place. He also recommends to schedule renovations for weekends, or other slow times. Roozen agrees about the timing: "When we do major floor work, we do it at night, or early morning on the weekends, when we're not open." There may be a way to schedule work during the day, especially in the men's locker room. Dupuis says that when a renovation was done at HealthWorks Fitness Center, "they did most of the men's work in the day, while keeping the rooms open, but had to close the ladies' locker room at times, and/or work at night." Corporate fitness centers often have built-in breaks on major holidays. Says Schumacher, "Fortunately, our corporate site closes down for a week between the Christmas and New Year's holiday. We closed the locker rooms for one week before our site shut down, so our members were only inconvenienced for one week. All of the work was completed for our re-opening in January." Casaburi from Retrofitness Enterprises offers some comfort if you are worried about inconveniencing members: "Most members are very receptive to facility upgrades, and the inconvenience it may temporarily incur, considering the greater good at the end of the process. So don't spend time worrying about the slight disarray your locker area may be in for a few days or weeks."

Keep it looking nice

When your upgrade or renovation is complete, you will want to keep it looking as new as possible for as long as possible. This is a team effort between management, staff and members, and will only work if you have a plan and maintenance schedule. Keeping your staff on track will require a cue from management. "I try to get my staff to see that new isn't always better," says Roozen. "If we can take care of what we have, it is easier and more cost-effective ... than to replace or renovate." Mullen says that you shouldn't run into major problems with your locker rooms if you have a preventive maintenance plan. "Always attempt to immediately take care of, or prevent, issues," he says. "Keep the facility looking, on an hour-by-hour basis, as if it has never been used. Constantly pick up, straighten up and clean up the facility - regardless of how busy it is." Follow this advice, and your locker rooms should look nothing like they did when you were in high school.
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