Chief Engineers & Facility Managers Conference: All-Gender Restrooms and Illinois Code

Katie Sperl, associate director of campus code compliance & fire safety, gave a talk to the Chief Engineers & Facility Managers Conference considering new codes for restrooms, and the future of more ‘all-gender’ restrooms.

“At the University of Illinois, this is a very important topic for our students and something we’re looking at in all of our buildings,” Sperl said.

All-gender restrooms, in a school setting, are restrooms that may be open to the hallway, with only closed-door stalls available. These restrooms require proper signage, floor to ceiling dividers for each private toilet, cannot contain urinals, must have menstrual supplies, a trash receptacle, and baby diaper stations. In places like schools, removing the door from the hallway to the restroom is believed to help public safety measures, but is not required.


“We engaged with our Office of Public Safety, we got them involved regarding future potential restrooms like these,” Sperl said. “Their main concern was in the lock mechanism on each stall door. There’s a certain one they’d like us to use. There’s a two-inch gap at the bottom of each stall door, so it’s not completely dark and ‘hidden.’ Often people go to the bathroom when they’re ill, and you don’t want to create a situation where they go to a restroom, pass out, and not be known,” Sperl said.

She also noted better security in regards to closed bathroom doors as potential nests for behavior out of eyesight from others – Sperl said there’s less ‘gibberish’ in restrooms like those in some all-gender restrooms in a Portland, Ore. high school.

So far, Sperl said she hasn’t “proposed something like this,” but that options like this may be used in the future.

Codes and Laws

Design concept converting from Left, linked closed door women’s and men’s restrooms, into Right, open to the hallway entrance, middle bank of sinks in all-gender restroom.

Recently, a change in the Illinois state code allows multiple ‘linked’ restrooms and make them all-gender. In fact, a few overlapping codes and laws are considered when designing restrooms or banks of bathrooms, according to Sperl.

There’s the 2014 Illinois Plumbing Code, the 2018 Illinois Accessibility Code, the 2021 International Building Code, and an Illinois law from the Office of the Governor.

The design on the right includes making two multi-user men’s and women’s restrooms into one all-gender multi-user restroom, and opening the entrance from the hallway.

Sperl added that you cannot convert a restroom if that means you now have one more or less than the other gender.

Realistic design and construction options are available in renovations, with much of the plumbing in place, given neighboring mens and womens restrooms. Additional building system considerations include: lighting, drainage, sprinkler head, and ventilation in each stall.

“If you only have so much square footage, like in a renovation, you may want the all-gender for the scale of what your square footage is,” she said.