Massive Restroom Renovations in Progress at Miami Int’l

Massive Restroom Renovations in Progress at Miami Int’l
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 

Miami International Airport (MIA) is undergoing a comprehensive renovation of more than 200 restrooms. The effort, slated for completion by 2030, is just one component of a larger future-ready capital initiative created under Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to modernize MIA. Every restroom renovation will involve internal demolition and reconstruction with new flooring, walls, ceilings and fixtures. The design is incorporating sustainable materials for partitions and flooring, enhanced accessibility features, hooks for passengers’ bags, touchless plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient lighting fixtures.

Construction and renovation costs are estimated at $101 million. The design and project management contract was capped at approximately $12.8 million.

The massive restroom makeover reached a new phase with the approval of a re-design contract by the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners in October 2023. During the busy holiday travel seasons, MIA accommodates more than 160,000 travelers per day. If only two-thirds of those guests use the restroom, that translates to more than 100,000 flushes, stall door swings, soap and towel dispenser uses, etc. in a single day. With some last updated in the 1980s, restrooms throughout the airport were in dire need of more capacity and updated, more efficient fixtures. 


Project: Restroom Renovations

Location: Miami Int’l Airport

Scope: 207 restrooms

Cost: Design & project management contract not to exceed about $12.8 million; construction & renovation costs estimated at $101 million

Funding: Capital improvement program

Construction: Oct. 2023–2030 (estimated)

Key Components: Upgraded plumbing fixtures; hands-free faucets & hand dryers; updated unisex/family restrooms with universal changing stations; heavy-duty hooks and handles; proactive maintenance & service systems

Prime Consultants, Design & Project Management: RS&H; EXP; Jacobs

Architectural Subconsultant: Laura M Perez & Associates

Electrical, Mechanical & Plumbing Engineer Subconsultant: Johnson, Avedano, Lopez, Rodriguez
& Walewski (JALRW) Engineering Group Inc.

Structural Engineering Subconsultant: S & F Engineers Inc.

Engineering Consulting Subconsultant: Spectrum Haven Engineering

Hands-Free Hand Dryers: Dyson

Customer Feedback System (Pilot Program): HappyOrNot

Service Request System (Pilot Program): Restroom Alert

Restroom Usage & Consumables Tracking System (Pilot Program): Trax Analytics

Key Benefits: Enhanced passenger experience; modernized facilities for passengers & employees; touchless fixtures for better hygiene; improved accessibility; sustainable design elements; low-flow plumbing & energy-efficient fixtures

Given the large project scope and crucial nature of the facilities being renovated, a phased approach was the only viable option. As of late January, upgrades had been completed in 33 restrooms throughout concourses D, H and J, including all restrooms on Concourse H. The remaining 35 bathrooms in MIA’s three other concourses (E, F and G) are slated for renovation by the end of 2024. The third and final phase of the program—the remaining 139 bathrooms in pre- and post-security areas on all three levels—is scheduled between 2025 and 2030.

Three contracts were awarded for design and project management of restrooms to RS&H, EXP and Jacobs. A design manager and a division director from the Miami-Dade Aviation Department are working closely with the consulting firms to ensure that renovations are completed according to instructions and expectations.

Important Details

Aviation Department leaders want to enhance the passenger experience from aircraft to curb (and curb to aircraft). The team examined various areas where passengers stop along that path, including what facilities and amenities they use and how they could be improved. Not all passengers shop or get a bite to eat, but most need to use the restroom at one point or another. And as travelers continue to arrive earlier for flights, they are more likely to use restrooms before their departures.

“That was the area that we felt would really speak volumes about our commitment to our passengers,” says Isaac Smith, assistant director of Facilities Management with the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. “We don’t want you to just come to the airport and fly off. We want you to come to the airport and be comfortable; so we pay attention to certain details.”

The attention and care dedicated to restroom facilities reflects an organization’s values and priorities, Smith adds. “It says whether a firm pays attention to detail and is conscious of providing proper accommodations for their guests. That speaks volumes to me,” he emphasizes.

Ample Communication

The airport’s Communications Division sent out a press release to spread the word about impending work when the project contract was awarded in October 2023. It also posted signs near moving walkways, check-in counters and restrooms that highlight the Modernization In Action (M.I.A.) Plan. Airport guests and workers can scan a QR code that links to web page with details about the multi-year project.

Because different restrooms are under construction each week, MIA is prioritizing effective signage and clear communication. “It’s somewhat of a moving target because the areas that we are working on are constantly changing,” Smith remarks. In addition to posting clear notices when a restroom is closed for renovation, signage indicates how to locate the nearest open restroom.

The Communications team also uses social media as an additional channel to provide updates. “We find that proper messaging even in that area goes a very long way,” Smith says. Internally, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department holds weekly communication calls for Operations, Maintenance and Communication teams to discuss anything that may affect or disrupt passengers, employees, concessionaires and/or airline partners.

Features and Enhancements

Like other facilities and businesses, MIA learned the value of hands-free features such as faucets, urinals, hand dryers and paper towel dispensers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas that don’t have electrical service for dryers are receiving hands-free paper towel dispensers.

In addition to eliminating high-touch surfaces in restrooms, MIA’s Dyson Airblade V hand dryers reduce the likelihood of paper towels being flushed down toilets. “From a maintenance standpoint, we really like the hands-free dryers,” Smith comments.

One seemingly small change that is proving to be hugely popular are the heavy-duty hooks and handles being added inside restroom stalls, at changing tables and by sinks to hold jackets, purses and bags. Project designers specified hardware strong enough to hold 40 pounds, ideal for passengers with a heavy backpack or duffel bag. “Your fixtures have to be robust enough to withstand that type of load,” Smith advises.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

In addition to separate men’s and women’s restrooms, MIA is adding all-gender family restrooms.

The new options were designed with several groups of users in mind:

  • parents or caregivers traveling with opposite-gender children,
  • solo parents or caregivers with multiple young children of various genders,
  • elderly guests or others needing assistance or enhanced privacy, and
  • any guest who prefers using a restroom not identified or separated according to binary genders.  

To accommodate such a wide variety of users, these restrooms are equipped with larger fixtures, accessible door handles, universal changing tables and additional space for luggage.

Aesthetics and Design

Aviation Department and airport leaders challenged designers to align the new restrooms with existing concourse elements, yet also make them noticeably different and better. Outdated green tile that made the spaces look relatively dark is being swapped out for lighter-colored finishes to brighten and enhance the guest experience. 

Smith reports that the Aviation Department is already receiving positive feedback from its own staff about the improvements. Specifically, MIA workers are commenting about the improved ambiance, lighting, lighter colors and clean lines.

Beyond the aesthetics, designers considered the durability of materials, fixtures and hardware. “We considered the porosity of our tiles, for example,” Smith notes. “You don’t want it to absorb the smells and liquids and so on.”

In addition to overseeing restroom renovations, RS&H is also helping update and maintain the Aviation Department’s Design Guidelines Manual, which provides standards and criteria for all MIA facilities. “If while doing the renovations we find tweaks to the manual are needed, being able to work with one firm is a good thing because now that firm disseminates it to others,” Smith explains. “The Design Guidelines Manual is a living, breathing document that’s constantly being updated.”

New fixtures were selected with facility maintenance and sustainability in mind. Energy-conserving choices like low-flow toilets and urinals will reduce water use, and LED lighting will decrease energy consumption. Many of the building materials include recycled content or low levels of volatile organic compounds. 

Upgrades include sustainable materials, enhanced accessibility features and touchless fixtures.
Upgrades include sustainable materials, enhanced accessibility features and touchless fixtures.

Beyond updating fixtures and materials, the remodel projects are increasing restroom capacity, improving flow and efficiency with new layouts, and adding baby changing stations to both men’s and women’s restrooms. Maintenance requirements were another major consideration. While some of the older configurations had fixtures coming directly out of the wall, new restrooms have a chase incorporated into the walls so toilets and urinals can be turned off individually for maintenance, rather than an entire row at a time. 

Leveraging Technology

MIA used the HappyOrNot system to obtain timely feedback about its new and existing restrooms. Tablets mounted outside restroom entrances/exits invited passengers to rate their satisfaction with the facilities. Because people are generally more eager to register complaints than compliments, the airport team did not focus solely on the number of negative versus positive comments. Instead, it monitored how those numbers independently increased or decreased. “We needed to look at how many negatives we get per week, and if the negatives are decreasing,” Smith explains.

If passengers perceive a restroom as unclean (or lacking soap or paper supplies), it can significantly influence their experience and overall feeling about the airport. “I think every passenger gives a lot of importance to the maintenance of restrooms, so their cleanliness and overall appearance makes a big impression,” says Martha Carvallo, an RS&H aviation project manager.

The Aviation Department also piloted three smart technology systems at MIA. Restroom Alert established a specific code for each restroom that allowed users to notify the janitorial company when facilities needed to be cleaned or restocked with supplies. Trax Analytics used sensors in dispensers for soap, toilet paper and other consumables that proactively notified maintenance personnel when supplies began to run low.

The third system tested, also from Trax, helped measure and track restroom usage. “To our surprise, we discovered we had two restrooms that were serving anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 per week, and that’s a crazy amount,” Smith remarks. Armed with this data, the project team knows it is crucial to provide ample nearby alternatives when crews renovate those particular restrooms. Intervals for maintenance, restocking and cleaning intervals also may need to be adjusted for the extra volume. The situation may even warrant a restroom attendant, Smith notes.

Facing Challenges, Learning Lessons

Deciding how many, and which particular restrooms, to close simultaneously for renovation is an ongoing issue for the project team. “We know going into it that we are in a very busy airport and that operations have to continue smoothly as we go through design and construction of these restrooms,” Carvallo says.

The airport consequently assigns each construction team a specific number of restrooms to work on at a given time, with renovations occurring in phases. It would be both impractical and operationally challenging to close or remodel all restrooms at once, Carvallo notes.

Durable, high-quality materials are essential, Smith adds. “Your maintenance should occur in between when aircraft arrive and in between when folks are coming to the airport, so it’s important that the materials you have can actually withstand the volume and the duty that will be required,” he says.

Smith also stresses the importance of expert installation. Rather than hiring a general contractor, the Aviation Department and its outside design firms are working with several different subcontractors to ensure straight lines in the tile work, solid substructures with proper sloping, power installation for electric hands-free devices and other individual project elements. “As you know, water and electricity don’t mix, so having an expert installer really pays,” Smith remarks.

Looking ahead, he notes that maintaining an appropriate inventory of spare fixtures, parts and hardware is a proactive way to keep ahead of urgent repair or replacement needs. 

Carvallo credits the Miami-Dade Aviation Department and MIA for prioritizing restroom renovations over other projects. “It demonstrates a dedication to improving the passenger experience,” she says. “It shows that they want to make Miami a place you want to fly in and out of.’”

For Smith and other MIA leaders, the restroom renovation program is delivering important upgrades and new features. “I think that is something we can be very proud of,” he reflects. “And I think it’s something that our passengers deserve.”


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