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ON THE GO AT TROPICANA

The place that Sunny Schroeder thinks of when she thinks of public restrooms is a noisy, smelly concrete bunker in the bowels of Tampa Stadium where women would stand in line for 20 minutes or more, suffering such bladder distension that they would unbutton their pants in desperate anticipation of a vacant stall.

"At the Bucs games, that was awful," Schroeder said. "People were cutting in front of you. You're always in line, yelling "Come on, guys!' You know, you're dying, dying of pain."

But somewhere around the top of the third inning of a recent Devil Rays game, Schroeder, a 30-year-old bank supervisor, arrived at the mountaintop, so to speak. This place of salvation and relief was a women's restroom near Section 301 of Tropicana Field, a place unlike anything Schroeder had ever seen at a sports stadium.

It was clean, almost serene, where a person could accomplish a biological necessity without discomfort or indignity. It was a place notable for not being memorable.

"It's so quiet," Schroeder said, referring to the subdued crowd in the stands and the lack of a crowd in the stalls.

Sunny Schroeder, say thank you to Helen Gordon Davis.

The year was 1992. Davis, a state senator from Tampa, championed the "potty parity" bill that aimed to rectify decades of bathroom bias by requiring more restrooms for women in public buildings.

Like millions of women accustomed to attending concerts, movies and sporting events, Davis knew that the lines for women's rooms were so long that women had been known to commandeer stalls in an adjoining men's room. A woman in Texas had even been charged with using a restroom designated for the opposite sex "in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance." In a fit of sanity, the charges were later dropped.

For the male legislators who might have doubted the severity of the situation, Davis supplied scientific evidence to support the horror stories. More than one study had shown that women require more time in a restroom than men, sometimes by as much as two minutes.

The solution was a simple rejiggering of the ratio of toilet fixtures. Instead of a one-to-one ratio, which sounds equal but isn't, the law required three women's toilets to every two urinals and toilets for men.

Few things are ever so simple.

Grandfather clauses and the slow pace of new construction meant that it was some years before the new law's benefits could be enjoyed. Along with the Ice Palace in downtown Tampa, Tropicana Field is one of the first arenas in the Tampa Bay area to be built or renovated under the auspices of the law. When the new Tampa Stadium opens this fall, it, too, will feature restroom equality.

Tropicana Field was born as the Florida Suncoast Dome two years before the law passed. That has made the stadium's journey toward compliance somewhat difficult to track. But comply it has, said John J. Curran Jr., one of the architects responsible for the stadium renovation.

Before the renovation began, there were more women's (23) than men's (19) restrooms. But there were more toilet fixtures for men than for women, 252 to 236. By either measure _ restrooms or actual fixtures _ the stadium was not in compliance.

Tropicana Field (capacity 45,360) has a significantly different bathroom profile from the original Dome (capacity 43,000). Women's restrooms exceed men's restrooms 32 to 27. More important, Curran said, "Whatever we added new, meets or exceeds the "potty parity' rule."

In an arena capacity of 45,000, standard building code requires 185 toilet fixtures for men and an equivalent number for women. When the "potty parity" law is factored in, the number of fixtures for women increases to 278.

While the total number of toilets at Tropicana Field (274 for men, 295 for women) does not reflect a 3-2 ratio, women have more facilities available to them required by either building code or law.

"There's code requirements, and then there's good design," Curran said. "From a design stand point, this is pretty darn good."

Take a look at the restroom that serves "The Beach" seating area high above leftfield. This new restroom offers 15 toilets for women and 10 toilets and urinals for men, strictly observing the 3-2 ratio required by law.

That there are now more women's fixtures than men's has caused not quite a backlash but some grumbling.

Reports after the Opening Day sellout included some griping from male fans about lines in the men's rooms. One man was even heard to complain that it was not right that his girlfriend should be waiting for him to emerge from a restroom.

"Now they know how it felt," Davis said.

It is only fair to note that lines do exist in men's rooms. But unlike lines that snake from women's rooms, these lines are concealed by a practice common to men's rooms everywhere: men queue up in individual lines behind each urinal, toll-booth style. Women, on the other hand, form one line as if they were at a bank waiting for the next available teller. Hence, it is possible, as Curran said, that "there may be more men in the space. You just don't see the line."

Davis is not sympathetic.

"The men evidently are not as fast as they used to be," she said. "Either the men are using buttoned flies or they're drinking too much beer."

True equality will take some getting used to for the women, too.

"When I walked up to this line, I thought I'd be waiting at least 15 minutes," said Stacey Surdi, 34, as she emerged from the restroom near Section 107. "I was in and out in less than five minutes."

Surdi thought she had it pretty good, but it was pointed out to her that while she stood in line, however briefly, there was another women's room behind Section 105 just a few steps away.

That one had no line at all.

Toilet miscellany:

At the entrance to most restrooms _ women's as well as men's _ someone has put up glass cases where that day's Times sports section is posted. This is a variation on an old pub tradition, tacking a page of the newspaper over every urinal so men could read the paper while their hands were otherwise occupied. The placement of the pages at Tropicana Field, however, makes one wonder who would linger in the doorway of a restroom to do their reading.

The cheap seats didn't get cheated on toilets. At the Field Level behind the outfield are six bathrooms for 21 sections of seats. This does not include the bathrooms at the Brew House, which have yet to open, and three unisex facilities that are accessible to the disabled. Remember that on a night when attendance is not at capacity, the bleachers are generally the least full seats in the house.

The two most out-of-the-way restrooms are tucked into the far corners of the mezzanine level. These restrooms, not much bigger than your bathroom at home, each serve four private suites at the ends of the first-base and third-base lines. Someone will want to see your ticket to let you onto this level, so don't try to get in unless it's a real emergency.

The club-level suites have access to restrooms with attractive tile floors done up in blue, yellow and white. They serve no more than three people at a time, but they do feature a changing station in the men's as well as women's rooms. In this equal-opportunity world, the father can change the diaper while the mother reads the sports page.

One bathroom you are likely never to use is the private one in Vince Naimoli's offices behind left-centerfield. As yet unfinished, it is not known whether this toilet will feature the daily Times' sports page tacked to the wall.

Going by the numbers

One of the new restrooms at Tropicana Field, this one serving "The Beach" high above leftfield, shows the "potty parity" law in action. There are 15 toilets in the women's room and 10 urinals and toilets on the men's side, a perfect 3-2 ratio as specified in the 1992 legislation. As a result, female fans, and there are plenty of them (Major League Baseball estimates women make up 46 percent of the sport's fan base), are seeing more of the Devil Rays and less of the inside of the bathroom. When you look at the numbers, it is clear why something needed to be done.

Range of time, in seconds, men and women spend in public restrooms:

Men: 45-113

Women: 79-175

Number of restrooms before Tropicana Field renovations:

Men: 252 fixtures in 19 restrooms +

Women: 236 fixures in 23 restrooms

Number of restrooms after renovations:

Men: 274 fixtures in 27 restrooms

Women: 295 fixtures in 32 restrooms

Standard code requires 185 fixtures for men and 185 for women in a stadium that seats 45,000. With the potty parity bill, which requires a 3-2 ratio, the numbers should be 185 for men and 278 for women. The new design far exceeds the code requirements even with the potty parity factor.

Level by level restroom check

New

Level 1 (field): Men: 8 Women: 8

Level 2 (main concourse): Men: 5 Women: 8

Level 3 (mezzanine): Men: 4 Women: 4

Level 4 (suite): Men: 4 Women: 5

Level 5 (upper concourse): Men: 6 Women: 7

Before renovation

Level 1 (field): Men: 6 Women: 6

Level 2 (main concourse): Men: 4 Women: 7

Level 3 (mezzanine): Men: 0 Women: 0

Level 4 (suite): Men: 4 Women: 4

Level 5 (upper concourse): Men: 5 Women: 6

Information supplied by John J. Curran Jr. of D.L.R. Group/Lescher and Mahoney

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