New rec centre approved at Cambridge council despite pushback on universal washroom design

Cambridge council voted in favour of the final approval needed before shovels can hit ground for the city’s planned recreation centre. Though, the decision didn’t come without some pushback.

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, councillors voted 7-2 in favour of the proposed motion to build universal washrooms and change rooms in the new Cambridge Recreation Complex.

Before the vote, delegates and council members posed questions and brought forth concerns surrounding the gender-neutral spaces.

The back-and-forth got heated when one delegate was removed from the meeting by security during her allotted five minute time in front of council.

“You offer the universal open area for males, females and children to change and shower together. Part of the process of grooming children is establishing a connection, isolating a child, testing boundaries — of all which councillors, you’re providing opportunities,” said Kitchener resident Janice Fiaschetti. 

It was then that Mayor Jan Liggett stopped the delegate’s presentation and had her removed from the meeting.

“That has nothing to do with this facility,” explained Mayor Liggett. 

Eventually, Ward 7 councillor Scott Hamilton moved the motion because the planned rec centre is set to be built within his jurisdiction. 

“I understand where those fears are coming from because we all want to protect our families. I feel they’re misplaced and I don’t feel they’re accurate,” said Counc. Hamilton. “You can’t see to the floor. You can’t have someone look over the ceiling. You can’t have someone stare through the crack and there’s lights on top of the doors.”

“I’m proud of it. I think staff have done a tremendous job. I think it’s gorgeous but it’s a testament to the fact that we appreciate everyone in our community regardless of who they are, where they come from or how they define themselves. They can be safe here,” he added.

Construction on the $108.4-million project is set to begin this summer. Doors are planned to be open to the public September 2026. 

Universal change room design.
The photo presented by MJMA Architecture & Design to Cambridge city council. Designs for the aquatic change room have two universal rooms with private cubicles and a shared space for showering in a bathing suit. (Youtube: City of Cambridge )

Addressing safety concerns

Robert Allen of MJMA Architecture & Design stood before council to share the designs for the gender-neutral washroom and change rooms to be built within the Cambridge Recreation Complex.

According to Allen, the goal was to design a space that was safe, accessible and inclusive for everybody. 

“What we’re trying to do is have places that can accommodate people of different disabilities, people who may have an opposite sex partner that needs to give them a hand in a restroom or change room, and people that will have caregivers that may not be of the same sex,” he explained. 

Proposed universal bathroom design.
According to Robert Allen of MJMA Architecture & Design, the goal was to design a space that was safe, accessible and inclusive for everybody. (Youtube: City of Cambridge)

The main-floor washroom will have a series of private, floor-to-ceiling cubicles and a public area for handwashing. 

The cubicles will also have occupancy lights on them.

For anyone feeling uncomfortable with the integration, Allen added there will be certain cubicles completed with toilets and sinks. 

The washroom is also set to have two points of entry, to combat the feeling of being trapped.

“We never try to dead-end anyone. There’s always two ways out and that’s really great if you’re trying to navigate something or someone you don’t want to go by, or there’s something happening and you want to leave,” Allen said. 

The designs show there will also be a universal standalone washroom which can be accessed from the main corridor, as well as within the common handwashing area. 

Designs for the aquatic change room were also presented to council, which similarly have two universal rooms with private cubicles and a shared space for showering in a bathing suit.

Universal change room design
“What we’re trying to do is have places that can accommodate people of different disabilities, people who may have an opposite sex partner that needs to give them a hand in a restroom or change room, and people that will have caregivers that may not be of the same sex,” Allen explained. (Youtube: City of Cambridge )

Plans show that in addition, there will be private showers in certain cubicles for anyone to use that will also contain enough space to double as a change room. 

Both the washrooms and change rooms’ walls will be glass, allowing for transparency from both within and outside.

“So you’re looking through a translucent screen. The sinks are behind that translucent screen, as are the private cubicles that have either the toilets or the toilets and sinks,” described Allen. 

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