Erik Burgess, Published January 13 2014
Standing room only: Dome’s age could be factor in long lines for women’s restrooms at Pink concert
The Fargodome again dealt with long lines for the women’s restroom during the concert. Some women even decided to use stalls in the men’s restrooms.
“I mean, when you gotta go, you gotta go,” said Jared Nill, a Fargo resident who attended the concert with his girlfriend.
Nill said he probably saw 15 to 20 women in the men’s room because lines outside women’s restrooms were at times 50 people long.
The issue isn’t new at the Fargodome, which opened 21 years ago and doesn’t have enough toilets or bathrooms to be up to snuff for current plumbing or building codes.
Six years ago, some women said they were kicked out of the dome after trying to use men’s restrooms because of long lines for ladies at a Bon Jovi concert.
Fargodome General Manager Rob Sobolik on Monday repeated what he said then: Long bathroom lines at major events are standard fare.
But as the Fargodome eyes a potential expansion of its convention space, Sobolik said updating the arena’s bathroom facilities is a possibility.
“Are we taking into consideration additional restroom space? Absolutely. We’d be foolish if we weren’t,” Sobolik said.
‘Potty parity’ at play
The number of restrooms and toilets in the dome hasn’t changed since that 2008 Bon Jovi concert, which was attended by 24,812 people. An estimated 21,500 people were at Pink’s show Saturday, but Sobolik said a final tally isn’t yet available.
The dome has 26 bathrooms, 13 men’s and 13 women’s. There are 144 women’s toilets and 173 men’s toilets, including urinals.
Sobolik said four of the dome’s men’s restrooms were temporarily changed to women’s restrooms for Saturday’s Pink concert.
Still, there were long lines for women. Nill guessed it’s because there were many more women than men at the show.
But clogged queues for the bathrooms could be rooted in the dome’s age.
Twenty years ago, standard building codes only required one women’s toilet for every men’s toilet, said Robert Brubaker, a program manager for the American Restroom Association.
In recent years, the much-politicized “potty parity,” or the argument that longer bathroom lines for women are unjust or discriminatory, has increased code requirements.
The most recent Uniform Plumbing Code typically requires a large event center like the Fargodome to have a 3-to-1 ratio of women’s toilets to men’s toilets, Brubaker said.
The 2012 International Building Code requires coliseums or indoor arenas like the Fargodome to have one bathroom per 150 women and one per 200 men. Generally, that building code requires about two times as many toilets for women than men.
Fargo Inspections Administrator Ron Strand said the city and state follow both the plumbing and international building codes.
Old buildings, though, don’t have to be retrofitted to new code unless there are significant renovations, Brubaker said.
“So if you have an old stadium that’s 30 years old, it’s going to be built to the code 30 years ago,” he said.
For reasons both obvious and not-so-obvious, women take more time in the bathroom. For instance, Brubaker said women are more likely to have small children with them.
“If dad is toting his three little kids into the men’s room, suddenly dad’s probably slower than mom,” he said.
Brubaker said his group doesn’t accept the argument that women “ought to be faster” in the stalls.
“We just say, ‘No. This is a reality. This is what it comes down to, and this is what the formula needs to be,’ ” he said.
Expansion could help
The dome is preparing for a Justin Timberlake concert on Feb. 7, another event likely to draw more women than men. Sobolik said dome staff and the promoter meet before any event to discuss the best way to handle the likely crowd, but sometimes it’s a guessing game.
“There’s nothing on ticket sales that tells us how many females to expect,” he said.
Sobolik said he heard reports of women using the men’s room at the Pink concert, and that it likely was handled as any other “security situation” would be handled.
The dome has used several options to shorten bathroom lines, including opening up lobby bathrooms or having event staff usher people to shorter lines, Sobolik said.
Setting up portable bathrooms has been considered, but Sobolik said he was unsure if code would allow them to be inside. He said the concourse didn’t have enough space to accommodate portable potties.
“There are a lot of events that we have here where everybody would love to have more restrooms, both male and female,” Sobolik said. “But you’re also constrained by the space that you have and the way your building is designed.”
That’s why a potential expansion to the dome could alleviate some of the bathroom frustrations.
Fargodome leaders have been considering a dome expansion for some time by adding up to 50,000 square feet of convention space.
That space could be built onto the dome or it could be put downtown. Mayor Dennis Walaker advocated for the downtown option last week at his “State of the Cities” address.
Sobolik said being able to make “enhancements” to the current facility is one reason why expanding the Fargodome on site, not downtown, is a smart idea.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518