The March 8, 2001, issue of the Chicago Tribune announced the introduction of a proposal to increase the number of toilets required in women’s restrooms at new or substantially rehabilitated arenas, large restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, malls, churches and similar “public places of assembly” throughout the city. Several members of the Chicago chapter of the American Society of Professional Engineers (ASPE) were involved with the committee that wrote the proposed revisions, which were partially based on society-sponsored studies reviewing the current standards. While cities across the country have already adopted and put into effect more restrictive plumbing provisions such as those proposed, Chicago is just now “getting up to speed,” according to one industry insider.
In practical terms, the new proposal means that women waiting in line in a venue that otherwise would have had 10 commodes under the current plumbing code might have their wait cut in half in a place that would have 20 toilets under the new measure.
Men’s rooms would also get more facilities under the new proposal in an acknowledgement that the current minimum requirements for the city simply don’t meet human needs, officials said.
While response from area residents was mostly positive, not everyone was ecstatic about the new proposal. According to Colleen McShane, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, the new standard could take a devastating toll on some of the IRA’s members. Square footage now devoted to tables would have to be used for plumbing, and because restaurants typically operate on thin profit margins as it is, the requirement would have a “grossly negative impact,” she said. MacShane contends that restaurants should not be included in the same category as stadiums, where there have been problems. “I have not heard anything to indicate that the number of toilets in ladies’ washrooms (in restaurants) is an issue. And, believe me, if it were an issue, the restaurant owners do not need government to tell them because they respond to their customers’ needs.”
The new proposal, like the existing standard, would base the number of required toilets on a formula that takes into account the type of building and the maximum occupancy allowed in it. But it no longer would permit the building owner to determine which gender gets how many toilets, guaranteeing for the first time that a specific number be reserved for women.
Currently, a theater that seats 600 must have nine water closets. Under the new standard, it must be equipped with 17, including nine for women.
An indoor stadium with a capacity of 2,000, which now must have 16 water closets, would be required to be outfitted with 25, including 13 for females.
If the City Council approves the change, the new standard would apply to Soldier Field, the lakefront stadium that is tagged for a dramatic makeover. The rebuilt stadium will have 800 toilets, three times more than required under the current ordinance. However, it was unclear at the time the proposal was introduced whether that was sufficient to meet the standard.
A spokesperson for the city’s Buildings Department said the cost of the proposed requirement is not known, but the standard is not expected to have a major financial impact on many developers and business owners who already install more toilets than are required.
In addition, existing sports venues, theaters and other places that draw big crowds would not be required to retrofit under the terms of the proposal.