It's a dirty business, but someone has to design laundries that are as attractive and functional as other program spaces.

Laundry facilities are one of the most forgotten support spaces from a design perspective. That's unfortunate, since good laundry design can make a surprisingly substantial difference in the quality of users' workout experience. When neglected, it's a space that can negatively impact both the financial success and public appeal of any athletic, fitness or recreation facility.

Laundry-room decisions-the level of laundry service to be provided, the configuration of pathways to and from laundry areas, storage requirements, building delivery access, accessories and equipment-need to be made early in the design process. A good deal of research may be necessary, especially when recreational or club sports are involved, when uniforms are added to the mix, or when a towel rental program is in place.

Nine steps separate the dream laundry- room design from the functional nightmare:

1. Determine the level of laundry services that need to be provided. This should be the first design decision made. The three major program options are: a simple laundry for housekeeping needs only, one for towel services only, or a laundry that handles workout clothing or uniforms in addition to towels. Each step up in service level will increase the space requirement and quantity of equipment needed for the laundry.

Housekeeping-only services, which handle towels for wiping down fitness equipment and cleaning rags, can be incorporated into almost any non-public service area and can consist of one washer and one dryer used only occasionally.

A less expensive, residential grade of equipment will work adequately for this level of service, and the space required can be shared with other support spaces such as storage or mechanical rooms. More-economical stackable washer/dryer units are good choices for these applications.

More-complicated services, such as towel-only or towels and clothing, require a dedicated space large enough to serve all users on the facility's busiest day of the year. For this type of program, most manufacturers can help outline what quantity and combination of washers and dryers will work best. Once the quantities and program have been decided upon, the designer will determine actual square footage needs by adding requisite space for circulation, storage and the folding of items.

A good bet, especially when towels are involved, is to increase the size of the dryers in order to decrease the time required for completing the laundry process. Most washer/dryer combinations will entail a longer wait for drying time than washing time. By increasing the dryer size to keep up with the harder-to-dry towel, a better time balance between washer and dryer cycles can be achieved.

When programming, you should remember that larger laundries can also offer amenities such as valuables storage, personal valet service and shoe shining (in private facilities), and equipment storage racks (in college intramural or public recreation facilities). Each amenity added will result in additional net program area.

2. Understand the management program of the facility in order to design efficient circulation. The design of pathways will require a clear understanding of the management philosophy of the facility as well as its program. Considerations include how laundry will be offered to users, recollected, cleaned and stored-a never-ending operational cycle. In order to appear well-planned, pathways must allow for the movement of laundry in a way that will not interfere with user circulation paths.

The choices of pathways can also impact the number of employees required to keep the laundry operation moving. The goal-whether supply and drop-off locations are placed at the front entry, within exercise space or in locker rooms-is the handling of laundry by the least number of employees possible. Given that a towel storage shelf and drop bin can involve 8 to 10 square feet of shelving and counter space (in addition to circulation space), it is recommended that drop bins feeding directly into the laundry room be incorporated into the locker-room entries. These same bins, installed at the entry desk, would subtract valuable space at one of the facility's most critical control areas.

Another option is the movement of carts or bins around a facility, something that can be done during off-peak hours if enough towels and shelving are provided to supply a facility's entire peak periods. Many facility operators, though, have found that demand usually outstrips supply. One facility to discontinue the use of mobile laundry carts within its locker rooms is the Greenwood Athletic Club in Greenwood Village, Colo. Greenwood's carts were initially added as a convenient towel drop for its members, but club employees ended up spending more time collecting dirty towels off the floor of the locker rooms than laundering them. Pathways within the laundry room are also part of the circulation equation. For example, cart movement is most successfully accommodated by designing wide aisles and incorporating backloading shelving units in out-of-the-way areas.

The size of washers and dryers chosen will affect the design of pathways throughout the facility. Many standard commercial washers and dryers will not fit through standard, 3-foot-wide openings, potentially necessitating untimely wall removal. Hallways also need to be wide enough to move a 4-by-4-by-5-foot washer or dryer in a straight line and around corners. Removable wall panels can be employed, if located correctly. The best solution, though, is to utilize a building's back door as the facility's service entrance and locate the laundry room nearby. A pair of back doors or a 4-foot-wide door will allow both laundry equipment and exercise equipment to be brought into the facility with ease. The size and configuration of a laundry room will determine the makeup of laundry staff. For example, when locker rooms are utilized for both laundry supply and return locations, gender requirements of laundry employees will be affected. Large laundry facilities with two or three pairs of washers and dryers will require up to four full-time laundry employees-more if employees are part-time workers or work in more than one area of the facility. If there is a men's and women's locker room, selecting two female and two male employees will be important to meet laundry needs.

3. Ensure storage requirements are compatible with the facility's program. To ensure that adequate space is provided, storage requirements must be considered early in the planning process. How many shelves are enough, and of what dimension? Coming up with the right answer requires answering a lot of other questions. How large is a folded towel? How many will be stored? How high do you want to reach? Answering the first question is made more complicated by towels' many different thicknesses and sizes.

The best method is to experiment with the actual laundry layout, or one that's similar, and measure. Keep in mind that while a high percentage of towels and uniforms will be in use during any given hour, once the facility is closed and the laundry is done you'll need enough shelving or bins to stack everything. Shelving needs to be provided along all pathway-ending points. You won't need to provide the entire shelving system at the delivery points - just enough to reduce your restocking efforts.

Towel storage-and in athletic facilities, uniform storage-is a major consumer of space. Additional storage for replacement towels and out-of-season athletic uniforms-two areas where bulk purchasing is common-should be provided.

4. Ensure that delivery systems are compatible with storage systems. Following the design of storage systems is the design of delivery systems. For example, storage requirements for carts or bins must also be considered because they will multiply very quickly during a busy day or when a number of sports teams are playing. A typical laundry operation may be active 12 to 16 hours a day in order to keep up with supply. If you are operating a laundry facility with two commercial washers and two commercial dryers full time, eight 2-by-3-foot cloth or plastic bins should be enough to handle the flow-two for collection, two full and waiting to be loaded into the washers, two involved in the cleaning process and two more waiting with folded laundry to be rolled back to the distribution shelving. Add extra bins for storage or spares during busy periods, and you begin to see the problem. At 6 square feet each, the bins will take up 50 to 100 feet of floor space. Always remember that delivery systems that utilize carts in both directions will require storage inside the laundry facility as well as outside.

5. Select laundry equipment at the onset of the design process. The early selection of laundry equipment can be extremely helpful in designing a facility. The size required and quantity needed should be determined with help from the manufacturer. Last-minute equipment changes can cause major shifts in locations and changes in partitions, plumbing and electrical locations within the laundryroom design. In turn, this could cause time delays in construction, as well as an increase in construction cost.

6. Consider the impact of your equipment choices. Following the resolution of programming issues, the design of a laundry space will also involve all major engineering disciplines-mechanical, structural, plumbing, electrical and acoustical. Just the simple choice of dryers can involve either gas systems, electrical circuits or steam piping and will require three different consultants. Each engineer can play a critical role in the design. Structurally, the issue will involve vibration caused by commercial washers during the spin cycle. Many existing projects already have noticeable vibration problems that are difficult or expensive to resolve later. Vibration isolation slabs are one of many solutions that an equipment supplier might suggest, and vibration impact varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Be sure to inquire how to handle vibration problems before you purchase any equipment and ask suppliers to guarantee their solution. Mechanical engineers need to consider heat supply, dryer exhaust requirements and fresh-air requirements.

All three involve complicated concepts that impact adjacent spaces. For exhaust systems, lint filters must be considered-and the straighter a duct runs up from the dryer to the roof, the better. Towel lint is both unattractive and can become a fire hazard very easily. A straight duct connection from the dryer to the roof will help reduce potentially hazardous problems.

In northern climates, the introduction of fresh air must be ducted or enclosed within a plenum, especially during the winter. Electrical issues are fairly simple, but large change orders can result if different equipment is substituted somewhere along the line. Along with vibration issues, the acoustical engineer will also need to consider controlling equipment noise. Adjacent spaces will almost certainly be affected if potential acoustical problems are not anticipated.

7. Consider the laundry environment. The environment of a well-designed laundry facility can affect the attitude of personnel. The space does not need to be cramped, dark and stuffy. The use of light wall finishes, high ceilings and good air ventilation can make a difficult job easier on employees, helping reduce the turnover that has become a major issue in all modern businesses. The placement of equipment can also reduce lifting requirements, thus speeding up the laundry process. For example, locating washers and dryers across from each other may eliminate loading and unloading cart-fulls of wet towels. A folding counter with storage shelving conveniently placed nearby can also be effective in creating a pleasant working environment.

8. Choose suitable flooring. A vital design consideration is easily cleaned, non-slip floors that slope to a floor drain and a trench drain located behind the washers. The trench drain must be able to hold the combined capacity of all washers at the same time to avoid overflows if the washers drain simultaneously. A trench drain or holding basin can easily be created by forming a 12-inch-wide-by-18-inch-deep concrete pit directly behind the washer. Towel lint can easily plug drains, causing room flooding, so a strainerstyle drain should be used to avoid problems. Still, all drains must be checked daily. Some building jurisdictions require lint filter systems to be installed in the drain system, so remember to verify code requirements prior to design. Vinyl or rubber floors that are not sensitive to water work well. Concrete will also work, but concrete floors are hard to stand on and do not help reduce noise.

9. Pay attention to the details. Finally, you should not forget the little details that make a quality facility. Direct telephone access to the front desk, a laundry sink and spigots that allow direct access to a water source for convenient cleaning, kick plates on all doors, and a stool to sit on during folding all help.

The laundry is not the flashiest part of an athletic, fitness or recreation program. It is often forgotten until the last moment, minimizing the window for value-engineering to be programmed into the design. Those who forget do so to their detriment, since it is an important, complex support space that will impact many other building systems. Just ask a manager with a laundry problem how much impact the lack of valueengineering has caused, and you might never forget to do the laundry again.