Changes are on the way Diapers: The new Ravens stadium will be family-friendly with fold-down tables for babies in the men's rooms. BY Peter Jensen

August 09, 1998|By SUN STAFF

Timothy Schumacher doesn't know it yet - toddler that he is - but a 35-inch-long piece of plastic is about to gain him entrance to one of Baltimore's hottest new venues, the Ravens football stadium.

His ticket to watch NFL games lies bolted inside all 150 stadium restrooms: a diaper- changing table.

If the presence of some fold-down tables in public lavatories strikes you as innocuous, unimportant or otherwise inconsequential, then you don't have responsibility for a young child, do you?

Because, oh, that plank of protection, that sanitary savior, that precious few feet of work room, makes all the difference to any father who has ever had to fumble inside a men's bathroom with a diaper bag, wipes, a squirming youngster and a size-4 Pampers.

"The reason I bought season tickets was for my son," said Alec Schumacher, 33, Timothy's father, a Ravens season ticket-holder from Frederick County who might otherwise have left his son home this season. "It's so much nicer than looking for a bench somewhere or doing it in the car."

Stadium officials say their decision to install changing tables at a cost of about $117 each was not hard. Nor did they seriously consider installing the devices in women's bathrooms only, as one vendor had suggested.

"What would the men do - change babies on the floor?" asked Alice Hoffman, project manager for the Maryland Stadium Authority, which also installed eight "family" bathrooms in the stadium so parents can accompany children of the opposite gender. "I don't think this required much discussion."

The choice to provide so many changing tables at the football stadium - a locale not normally considered infant-friendly - illustrates a distinctly 1990s trend: the invasion of babies into men's bathrooms.

In the past 2 years, the Koala Corp. has sold more of their so-called "Koala Bear Kare" changing stations than it had in the previous 11 years, according to company officials.

That's significant because Denver-based Koala is the 800-pound bear in its field, claiming 70 percent of the manufactured- changing-table market. The company has sold more than 300,000 changing tables in the United States and overseas.

Ravens fans will encounter the classic, fold-down, plastic-reinforced-with-steel Koala tables in stadium restrooms.

"It's no longer an issue of our customers buying one, it's buying two: men's and women's restrooms," said James A. Zazenski, Koala's executive vice-president and general manager. "The opportunity is just tremendous."

The trend has been fueled by dual-career families and divorce. With less time to spend with their children, parents want to take their babies everywhere, including professional football games.

"Folks are a lot more accustomed to traveling with young kids today," said Dr. George K. Siberry, pediatric chief resident at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "And fathers have taken a larger role in all aspects of child care."

To this, Siberry also says: It's about time. A Wilmington, Del., resident with two young children, he can recall his own desperate searches for changing space while driving along I-95 to Baltimore.

"Many was the time," he said, "I had to ask my wife to change a child's diaper because the men's room didn't have a changing area."

Even with the emergence of men's-room changing tables, a father is still unlikely to find one when he needs one. There are about 5 million public restrooms in the United States. Koala officials estimate that fewer than one in 10 is equipped with changing facilities, and they are still educating retailers and restaurateurs about their benefits.

A recent survey conducted for Koala found that seven of 10 parents with young children shop with them all or most of the time.

One of the first to seize on the trend, Seattle-based Nordstrom has remained a leader in rest-room ambience. The department store chain not only equips its men's rooms with spacious, padded, changing tables, but its stores contain at least one family restroom with similar facilities.

"It's amazing how many nice comments we get about the bathrooms and how we can accommodate both men and women who need to change a baby," said Joseph March, manager of the Nordstrom in Towson Town center. "It's part of the ambience, part of what sets us apart, and I think it makes a difference."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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