Durability & Privacy: Cubicles and Partitions for School Restrooms

Some design strategies never change. Others do. This is especially apparent when examining the evolution of cubicle and toilet partition design for educational facilities, from K-12 schools to large universities.

What hasn’t changed? Durability has always been critical. Schools are known to experience short bursts of heavy traffic throughout the day. These facilities also carry a possible high incidence of vandalism. Cubicles and partitions that can withstand and resist heavy use and vandalism have always been essential amenities for schools.

What has changed? Privacy and gender inclusive restrooms are gradually becoming the basis of design in education buildings, particularly institutions of higher education. This trend is not new. In fact, by 2013, 150 universities had gender-neutral restrooms installed. However, privacy is increasingly an expectation for today’s population, particularly with millennials and Generation Z.

Meanwhile, value will always be critical in school restroom design—not only through durability and increased product lifecycles but also upfront capital costs. Higher education projects, in particular, may require the balancing of budget limitations, durability and privacy. Architects and designers increasingly are challenged to find cubicle and toilet partition solutions that are durable, affordable and private. Fortunately, today’s offerings have evolved.

Optimizing for Value

Particularly discriminating education projects may require enhanced privacy, durability and design at a modest price point. In such circumstances, a European-style, engineered compact laminate (CL) system like Bobrick’s new Evolve Cubicles, can achieve the project requirements. While Evolve’s fully anodized aluminum framing system provides stability, its solid-core construction ensures moisture and impact resistance.

Compared to costlier European-style cubicle systems, a value-optimized system like Evolve can satisfy design requirements at a far more accessible cost.


For schools, maintainability and product lifecycle costs are critical, as operating and capital budgets may be limited. So long-term performance that minimizes repair and maintenance expenses is particularly desirable in cubicle or toilet partition systems.

For heavy traffic educational facilities where design and privacy may be less important, solid color reinforced composite (SCRC) products, such as Bobrick’s Traditional SierraSeries®, deliver optimized performance with some privacy options.

One of the primary benefits of SCRC is that the material is a solid color throughout, which means gouges and scratches can be sanded out. It also has a graffiti-resistant surface with high resistance to scratches and dents. SCRC is also water-resistant, so it can be “hosed-down” for cleaning and it offers a Class B ASTM E 84 Interior Wall Finish Classification and a 25-year warranty.

In addressing the unique challenges of educational facilities—namely graffiti- and scratch-resistance. SCRC has performed particularly well under the ASTM D 6578 graffiti resistance test (all nine marks were removed from SCRC) as well as the ASTM D 2197 scratch-resistance test (SCRC did not scratch under 10 kilograms of weight).

These values have been on display at Strasburg High School in Colorado for almost two decades. In 2004, it was clear that its original wood partitions, then over 50 years old, needed to be replaced. Bobrick SierraSeries® partitions were installed in an overhead-braced mounting configuration. Since then, the panels haven’t required any major treatment or repairs. Read more >


Privacy is no longer just a trend—it is rapidly becoming an expectation across a range of building types, schools in particular. The trend of all-gender restroom design underscores the scale of the privacy issue. Facilities that ensure transgender individuals have a safe, private restroom available to them are creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and reducing legal liability, especially in areas and buildings where laws have passed.

Consider the map below reviewing legislation regulating gender-inclusive restrooms:

A number of states and municipalities have passed laws that protect transgender individuals and others who wish to use the restroom of their choice within public and government facilities, while many others have introduced legislation that is currently pending.

California is one of the states that is leading the way in gender-inclusive design and has passed laws regarding gender-inclusive bathrooms. In fact, many California facilities have adopted them, regardless of whether they were required to by law. In some educational facilities, privacy may be the primary design requirement, especially in all-gender restrooms in dorms, libraries and other spaces that multiple genders occupy.

Design professionals today have a range of cubicle and toilet partition solutions at their disposal when it comes to education restrooms. When privacy, durability, value or all of theses attributes are critical, Bobrick has your solution.

Reach out to your Bobrick architectural representative about Evolve Cubicles or Traditional SierraSeries® SCRC.

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Why Specifiers Should Care About Proprietary vs. Non-Proprietary Systems

Don’t let your design intent get scrubbed. After all, as an architect or interior designer, the primary value you bring to every project is your vision.

Whether you’re specifying a toilet partition system or a soap dispenser, the products you choose have a profound effect on the overall aesthetic and experience of the restroom for years to come.

When the product you specify causes headaches for the building owner—in the form of increased maintenance, cost-in-use and even excessive waste—you put your design intent in serious jeopardy. In many cases, a high-cost, high-labor system is specified by the architect; within a few months or less, the owner or facility manager will have already replaced the system with a more cost-effective (and often times, uglier) option.

In your upfront specification, avoid leaving the dispensing system up to the owner who may compromise your overall restroom design by affixing a plastic soap dispenser to the mirror, which can be unsightly and messy, resulting in water puddles on the counter. Further, once you leave the soap dispenser up to the owner, consider it “open season” on the rest of your design choices, from the toilet tissue dispenser to the towel dispenser.

The bottom line: As a specifier, specifying an effective soap dispensing system should be your responsibility—in fact, over the long-term, this decision can be a make-or-break moment to preserve your design intent for years to come.

Proprietary Systems are Consistently Swapped

Most modern soap dispensing systems utilize proprietary soap cartridges—that is, systems that can only function with the manufacturer’s proprietary plastic soap cartridges or bottles. These cartridges typically are affixed to the dispenser beneath the washroom counter. Maintaining this system is somewhat labor-intensive for janitorial staff, who must reach and bend under the counter to change the cartridge. Over the lifetime of the product, this kind of maintenance can add up to hundreds of dollars in wasted labor costs.

Looking to support sustainability goals? Proprietary soap cartridge systems also result in excessive waste—each cartridge or bottle must be discarded once empty and cannot be refilled.

Finally, proprietary soap systems usually come with high-priced, multi-year consumables contracts, essentially locking facility owners into multi-year purchasing agreements.

For these reasons, proprietary systems are extremely prone to being replaced with other, less aesthetic products within just a few months of being installed—they’re simply too much trouble and too expensive for the facility to deal with. And when the dispenser goes, so does the lifetime of your integrated restroom aesthetic.

Non-Proprietary Systems Deliver Design Endurance

While proprietary soap systems limit purchasing flexibility for facilities and contribute to additional labor costs and post-consumer waste, non-proprietary soap dispensing systems are low maintenance for the owner—meaning your design is much more likely to endure.

First, they allow facilities to use any soap type that is compatible with the dispenser, be it a liquid or foam variety. In fact, the use of bulk jugs of non-proprietary soap can facilitate as much as 80% cost savings on soap compared to proprietary cartridges or bottles; thus, it’s also a more sustainable option, resulting in up to a 57% reduction in post-consumer waste.

In addition, some newer non-proprietary dispensing systems feature top-fill functionality, allowing janitorial staff to refill the dispenser through a convenient spout. With non-proprietary, open systems, maintenance staff can work more efficiently and comfortably, spending considerably less time bending beneath counters.

To further improve long-term cost and labor savings for non-proprietary dispensing solutions, utilize a foam soap system (whether automatic or manual), which can facilitate as much as 15% water savings compared to liquid. This adds yet another incentive for facilities to turn away proprietary soap companies and maintain your specified product for years to come.

The economical, sustainable benefits of non-proprietary systems increase the likelihood that the owner will stick with your specification, refilling and maintaining as-needed.

The Deep Scrub

The average American worker spends 40 hours per year in their workplace’s restroom—so when you conceptualize a restroom design, it’s within everyone’s best interest that you make it last.

Don’t break your clients’ bank and compromise your design intent with a restrictive soap dispensing system. Get it right the first time and don’t let your intent get scrubbed.

Return to the Bobrick Academy soon for our upcoming blog on liquid soap vs. foam soap!

Consult with a Bobrick architectural rep to learn more about specifying a non-proprietary soap dispensing system like Bobrick’s new B-823 manual foam soap dispenser.
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How to Choose a Toilet Partition Material

Today’s toilet partition systems are available with a nearly limitless selection of design options and configurations. From finishes to privacy features and hardware to mounting options, architects and designers have a wide variety of options available to meet demanding project requirements.

One of the most critical decisions to make is the choice of material. A toilet partition system’s material can impact:

  • The durability of a partition system and its warranty
  • A system’s ability to meet critical codes and requirements
  • Its resistance to graffiti and scratching
  • How the partition system is cleaned and maintained

…and much more. Each partition material has unique advantages and disadvantages, depending on the building application. Before specifying a partition material, review not only these considerations but also our Continuing Education course, Specifying Code-Compliant Toilet Partitions on AECDaily.

Fire Code Considerations

In the United States, model codes and standards pertaining to fire safety and construction are regulated by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While not mandatory until adopted by city, county, state, and federal government jurisdictions, adherence to these codes is often critical, as many major corporations require compliance regardless of governmental policy.

Most relevant to the specification of partitions today are the International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC), the NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, and NFPA 1, Fire Code. As of 2006, the model codes written by both ICC and NFPA clearly regulate toilet room privacy partitions as an interior finish. This is an important distinction—in recent years, some jurisdictions have interpreted fire and building code requirements for interior finish as being unrelated to restroom privacy partitions. Although these standards are not currently regulation or law in several jurisdictions, prudent architects and specifiers should adhere to them.

Architects, interior designers and specifiers should always request complete ASTM E84, UL 723, or NFPA 286 room-corner test compliance documents from HPL, CL, and SCRC toilet partition manufacturers. It is also important to insist on unmodified NFPA 286 room-corner test compliance documentation from PP and HDPE toilet partition manufacturers prior to specification or purchase.

Building Type Considerations

The building type can help form a baseline for choosing a partition material, depending on whether the facility is prestige, standard-use, or heavy-traffic.

Prestige Buildings
Corporate headquarters, class-A office projects, civic centers & major universities

  • Moderate-low traffic
  • Minimal use and abuse
  • Architectural design excellence, quality materials and equipment

Standard-Use Buildings
Commercial office facilities, healthcare centers, hospitality projects & manufacturing plants

  • Moderate-heavy traffic
  • Moderate-heavy vandalism
  • Specification typically price-driven

Heavy Traffic Buildings
K–12 schools, shopping malls, amusement and recreation facilities & transportation centers

  • Heavy traffic
  • Possible high incidence of vandalism
Selecting a Material

Each partition material has unique advantages and disadvantages, dependent on the building application.

Solid Color Reinforced Composite (SCRC)

  • Homogeneous color
  • Hard, yet repairable material; gouges/scratches can be sanded out
  • Water resistant; can be “hosed down” for cleaning
  • Surface is highly resistant to graffiti, scratches, dents and water damage
  • Can achieve ICC class-B interior wall finish classification
  • 25-year warranty

High-Pressure Laminate (HPL)

  • Extensive color and pattern options
  • Improved graffiti, scratch, and dent resistance (although deep scratches can expose dark kraft paper, which may absorb odors and/or swell when exposed to excessive moisture)
  • Visible brown or black edges
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Can obtain a class-B interior wall finish classification from the IBC
  • Special laminates may increase costs and lead time
  • Limited warranty

Compact Laminate (CL)

  • Water-resistant and can be “hosed down” for cleaning
  • Dent-, scratch-, and graffiti-resistant
  • Available in a wide variety of colors
  • Can achieve ICC class-A or B interior wall finish classification

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

  • Homogeneous color, which allows for gouges and scratches to simply be sanded out.
  • Water-resistant for easy cleaning
  • High recycled content
  • Extended warrant
  • Graffiti tends to “ghost” into HDPE and cannot be fully removed
  • Softest of the materials; can easily be scratched and dented

Painted Metal & Stainless Steel

  • Wide availability and low cost—stainless steel is typically costlier
  • Qualify as class-A interior wall finishes under the IBC
  • More prone to rusting, dents, scratches, and odor absorption than other options
  • Painted metal and stainless steel partitions typically have a limited warranty
  • Graffiti is also more difficult to remove from painted metal partitions

Earn an AIA/CES Learning credit with Bobrick’s course, Specifying Code-Compliant Toilet Partitions.
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