The Brookhaven City Council stalled on approving “futuristic” designs for park restrooms after Mayor John Ernst said he was unsure the public would readily accept their contemporary look.
But Councilmember Joe Gebbia praised the angular, wood-walled restrooms as “monuments” that will say, “You’re in Brookhaven.” And Councilmember Bates Mattison likened them to the Sydney Opera House, an Australian landmark of modern architecture.
Ernst acknowledged he was not ready to flush the ideas just yet and said the City Council will reconsider the bathroom aesthetic at its meeting Aug. 9.
“I’m somewhat concerned that we don’t get ahead of ourselves,” Ernst said after a presentation by GreenbergFarrow on park restroom prototypes at the City Council July 26 work session.
“I don’t know if the community will take a look at this and think this is a little more futurist then they were expecting,” he said. “I’m concerned everyone will say this looks too ‘out there’ for our little city.”
New restroom designs were part of the GreenbergFarrow Site Specific Parks Master Plan approved by the City Council in April, with the recommendation from councilmembers that designers think “green.”
Parks and Recreation Director Brian Borden explained the prototypes were based on council suggestions to have an “organic” look and blend into the natural setting of the parks.
Representatives from GreenbergFarrow presented small and large prototypes. A small restroom is estimated to cost $95,000 and include one female stall, one male stall and one family stall. The large prototype is estimated to cost $150,000 and would include four male stalls, four female stalls and one family stall. Both sizes would be connected to one sewer. All would be ADA accessible.
There was some support for unisex restrooms because each stall includes its own toilet and sink. The law requires a certain ratio of urinals to toilets and there may be more stalls should the city decide to approve unisex restrooms, according to GreenbergFarrow.
Councilmember Linley Jones noted that during a recent trip to Asheville, N.C., she noticed most businesses and public venues had done away with gender-identified restrooms and the practice was being accepted.
Those Ashville changes were in response to Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signing into law the controversial HB 2 bill that bans transgender people from choosing to use restrooms that match their gender identity.
Bruce Dillman of GreenbergFarrow explained the “sculptural” designs are intended to enhance the environment in which they are located and also to be different than the standard cement-block buildings used for many park restrooms.
The restrooms would include sustainable features, such as low-flow toilets and sensor-activated faucets and lights.
The angled-roof design of the restrooms appeared to have a gap to the outside, leading Jones to recall a past experience in one such bathroom years ago.
“I was actually joined in an open-air bathroom in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica by a capuchin monkey,” she said to chuckles. “It was disturbing.”
“We want to hear about this,” said Councilmember John Park.
Jones laughed and said while Brookhaven doesn’t have monkeys, she wanted to ensure those using the city park restrooms wouldn’t be bothered by squirrels, birds, rodents or insects. She was assured the restrooms would be secured by translucent materials.
“Be it monkeys or Pokémon, we want to keep critters out,” Dillman said.
As part of the sustainability of the restroom structures, the roof designs allow for air to flow in and out while also providing natural lighting, he said.
The angled roofs of the restrooms would be replicated throughout the park systems in other buildings, such as pavilions, according to GreenbergFarrow.
Ernst again raised his hesitation to sign off on the designs.
“All our parks will have this look throughout,” he said. “This will be, in a sense, since we don’t have any typical architecture in our city … this will be what we are known for. In the future [these designs] will scream Brookhaven.”
Councilmember Gebbia said the designs are great representations of the city.
“We talk about monuments …and how we want people to know they are in Brookhaven,” he said. “This is definitely leading in that direction. Our parks are really something exceptional and this definitely [says], ‘You’re in Brookhaven.’”
Mattison said he “loved the designs.”
Jones reminded council members that the architects and designers were drawing up plans from direct input from city residents made during the development of the parks plans.
“I understand this is perhaps a more modern treatment than some residents expect,” she said. “But this is the designers’ answer to the feedback people gave of what they wanted to see in our parks.”
“I agree these are much more natural looking than steel,” Ernst said.
Borden said the designs needed to be approved within the next month to remain on schedule for the designs and construction of the parks master plan.
Ernst asked council members to discuss the designs with residents and said the topic will be revisited at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 9.