UNISEX toilet blocks at a revamped multi-million pound school are causing a stink with parents.
Controversy flared after Dyke House Sports and Technology College, in Hartlepool, opened its doors on Tuesday after a £12.4m transformation with new open-plan toilet blocks which are used by both boys and girls.
The toilet areas have three floor-to-ceiling cubicles each for males and females, with boys’ toilets just inches away from the girls’.
The new design, unveiled after the school was remodelled under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, sees both sexes walk out from the cubicles to the same room and use communal sinks.
Parents have panned the idea of having communal toilet areas and say they are “asking for trouble”.
But school bosses say the design of the toilets is “the way forward in 21st Century schools”, they are always monitored by a staff member and it will combat “smokers’ corners”.
Mum-of-two Lynsey Smith, 32, who has a son at the school and lives in nearby Avondale Gardens, said: “If I had a daughter I wouldn’t like to think you have got boys there giving it ‘howay’, carrying on while the girls are going through periods and all that sort of stuff.
“And if people are dating they might end up in the toilets.
“It’s asking for trouble really.”
One mum, who took to Facebook to express her anger, said: “My daughter said she’s refusing to go to the toilet at the school for the four and a half years.”
She said she has contacted Hartlepool Borough Council and her local councillor over the issue.
But Andrew Jordon, headteacher at the 1,050-pupil school, said two parents had raised concerns about the toilets, but had changed their minds once they had been invited to see the lavatories.
He added: “What we had at the old Dyke House was girls and boys toilets in the same block, but with a rat-run of places where people could smoke.
“We have got them contained within the same block, but it’s much more of a pleasant experience.
“The toilets are very separate – they all have individual cubicles which have floor-to-ceiling doors.
“There will be a set of toilets for each individual year group that have three individual cubicles for boys and three for girls.”
Mr Jordon added that the school had spent 18 months working on the design with contractors Balfour Beatty and that the open-plan format was a “stock design” for the national construction firm.
He added that the toilets are supervised by a member of staff, either by a progress leader during lessons, whose office is beside the toilets, or by a member of supervisory staff during breaks and lunchtimes.
He said the issue of girls’ periods had come up in a lengthy consultation involving the school, architects and pupils and it was felt the floor-to-ceiling design addressed this.
Peter McIntosh, head of schools transformation with Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “The layout of the toilets at Dyke House School is an increasingly accepted practice in modern schools.
“Indeed, the same concept already exists and works well at the town’s Space to Learn facility.
“When we were in the planning stages for Dyke House we looked at several new schools elsewhere which had adopted this design and the feedback was very positive.
“There are still dedicated toilets for girls and boys with floor to ceiling privacy and it is very much the way forward in 21st Century schools.”
A Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said: “The school and the toilets are designed in line with BSF guidance. They are signed off by all parties involved in the BSF scheme, it is not an individual decision by us.”
Parents on Facebook had also expressed safety concerns about Year 7 pupils having to start school at 8am and waiting to be picked up in the darkness at 7.30am.
But Mr Jordon said the earlier start for the year group is to brush up on literary skills and that parents had been spoken to individually, with transport arrangements made to address these concerns.