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​June 1, 2020

Guidance on Public Restroom Availability

The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) legal counsel has advised the Office of Commonwealth Libraries as to whether restroom facilities are required to be open in libraries (i.e. public spaces).  

It appears that if a structure is intended for public utilization, such as a library, then it must provide customers, patrons, and visitors with public toilet facilities in accordance with its occupancy classification (Table 2902.1 of the 2009 International Building Code [IBC] indicates that libraries have an occupancy classification of A-3 and provides the corresponding number of restroom facilities required).

If the library operates a coffee shop that is otherwise regulated then perhaps they would want more of an analysis with respect to any industry-specific license they might hold (i.e. Retail Food Facility from the Department of Agriculture, but it would seem a library coffee shop would fit one of the exemptions).

PDE’s legal counsel is unaware of a statute that would indicate a public libraries’ restroom facilities can remain closed, but counsel advises that any decision a library would make to keep the restrooms closed out of safety concerns would be on the basis of the libraries’ concern and/or ability to operate under re-opening safety guidelines. Alternatively, it would seem a library could limit or monitor usage by having patrons ask for a key, for example.

PDE legal counsel encourages any library to consult with their counsel in interpreting application of the restroom requirements  and considering its operation in various re-opening phases in compliance with Centers for Disease Control guidance in order to determine whether it is advisable to limit access to restrooms upon balancing the competing concern about public safety and public access.

Summary

The Office of Commonwealth Libraries sought information from PDE's legal counsel as to whether restrooms must be open during the yellow and green phases for local library patrons. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide legal counsel statewide because each facility is different, as are each library's means to provide safe operation.  

The simple answer is yes, libraries need to have accessible public restroom facilities. However, the risk in not offering public accessibility may be mitigated by citing temporary modified operations during re-opening phases to protect against employee/public safety based on a facility's unique circumstances. 

Please note that this is merely my interpretation, not my, nor the commonwealth's, legal advice. 

It is important for each library to seek its own legal counsel because if there is a legal disagreement about restroom accessibility, the responsibility for defending a decision not to provide restrooms would fall on the local library board, not the PDE or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Sources 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry regulation entitled "Facilities for Handicapped" sets rules and specifications that apply to buildings of assembly, educational institutions and office buildings which are constructed in whole or in part using Commonwealth funds or the funds of an instrumentality of the Commonwealth (34 Pa. Code § 47.111). Per 34 Pa. Code § 47.127, each floor of the building is required to have a restroom accessible and usable by those with disabilities. In considering limiting or eliminating access to restrooms, the caution would be to evaluate and avoid any discriminatory impact on library patrons.

Pennsylvania's statewide building code, the Uniform Construction Code (UCC), may require a public building, such as a library, to provide facilities to library users or the public. (PDE legal counsel says "may" because it may be possible that municipalities have to elect to administer and enforce the UCC locally; so there could be inconsistency, to some degree, statewide.) The Department of Labor and Industry adopted regulations known as the UCC. The 2009 International Building Code (IBC), Chapter 29 ("Plumbing Systems"), is part of the UCC. Labor & Industry's regulations incorporate the 2009 IBC, pertaining to plumbing systems, which remains in effect. Section 2901 of the 2009 IBC, titled "Scope," makes clear that the chapter "shall govern the erection, installation, alteration, repairs, relocation, replacement, addition to, use or maintenance of plumbing equipment and systems." Section 2902.3 of the 2009 IBC, ("Required Public Toilet Facilities"), indicates that "[c]ustomers, patrons and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization. The number of plumbing fixtures located within the required toilet facilities shall be provided in accordance with Section 2902.1 for all uses." Section 2902.1 of the 2009 IBC specifies the minimum number of plumbing fixtures.  See Table 2902.1 of the 2009 IBC, which specifies the minimum number of lavatories and water closets for "Assembly Group A" classified occupancies. Section 303.1 of the 2009 IBC specifies that "Libraries" are included in the "Assembly Group A" occupancy classification. Consideration may need to be given to established libraries that have been issued occupancy permits long before the current UCC updates. 

Information and Questions

Information and future guidance will be announced as soon as it is available via our statewide email distribution lists and on our Guidance and Resources for Public Libraries website. This page also offers a Framework for Reopening LibrariesClosure Guidance and InformationAnswers to Frequently Asked Questions, and a compilation of Messages from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries.

Questions about COVID-19 issues should be directed to PDE: RA-EDEmergencyResponse@pa.gov.

Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries