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Changeroom designs for Cambridge Recreation Complex cause tension at council meeting

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Cambridge city council has put its final stamp of approval on the future Cambridge Recreation Complex, but not without some hurdles.

Revamped designs for the building’s pool change rooms and washrooms were presented to councillors at a meeting Tuesday.

Images of the design show a universal concept. Instead of traditional areas divided by two genders, the proposal shows gender-neutral common areas with private stalls for changing and using the restroom. There are multiple entrances and exits to the area, and the common spaces are fully visible through glass.

“Inclusivity, accessibility, security and comfort are really, I would say, the four main goals in this facility,” said Shane Taylor, the manager of recreation and place making capital projects for the City of Cambridge.

Taylor explained the washrooms and change rooms are similar to what’s seen in many restaurants these days – lockable stalls that can be used by anyone at any time.

There’s an open concept shower section for swimmers to rinse off as soon as they get out of the pool, but there are also private shower stalls for anyone who would prefer that method.

“With all the glass and all the visibility, signage and education, the main locker area, where people circulate, there’s no changing whatsoever,” Taylor explained.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, city staff explained any public changing in the facility would be treated the same as public nudity at any other public building.

Residents weigh in, tensions rise

Council heard from delegates who were both for and against the design.

Bill Kirby, the father of a transgender woman, said he’s very much in support of the plan.

Kirby’s daughter came out to the family as transgender about ten years ago. Since then, he said he’s watched varying degrees of acceptance from both family and the public.

“I felt compelled to speak out, not just as a parent, but because a lot of the people who face these obstacles, they certainly have the wherewithal to say something but don’t want to subject themselves to the blowback,” Kirby said in an interview with CTV News.

“If people can’t handle universality and inclusion, then it’s not something wrong with me. It’s something wrong with them,” he said.

Kirby said everyone wins with the universal design – there’s privacy and inclusion for all. 

“Cambridge has taken a great step forward in walking the walk of inclusion, and not just talking the talk,” Kirby said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, another delegate, Devin Sisak, talked about how the floorplan is beneficial to everyone, including those with accessibility challenges.

"The revised floor plans are a testament to the team's inclusivity," Sisak said addressing council. "They showcase designs that mirror our community's collective desires, needs and aspirations."

On the other side, a number of residents also expressed concerns about having people of all ages and genders in the same space.

"Separate male and female washrooms, a family washroom, and universal washrooms, everyone is happy, safe, and everyone's needs are met," former teacher Peter Hyman said, referring to another recent build. "Why can't we have the same set up for this new facility?"

Hyman said the recreation complex’s design sets “a dangerous precedent for future building construction” in the city.

Another delegate, Janice Fiaschetti, voiced concerns over the proposal. Her presentation was cut off by Mayor Jan Liggett.

“You’re going in a direction that’s not allowed here,” the mayor said, before calling for security to remove Fiaschetti after she wouldn’t stop talking.

Taylor said there’s some clear misunderstandings from the public.

“This misconception that people are expected to be all in one giant room, all changing together and getting naked in front of other people. That’s absolutely not the case,” Taylor said.

“Really, the driving force behind this is to have small, comfortable private spaces.”

After a lengthy discussion, council passed the design 7-2, putting the final stamp of approval on the rec centre.

The city will look for tenders for the construction starting in May. Staff are hopeful shovels will break ground this summer, with doors opening in 2026.

Taylor said the price tag for the building is just under $109 million.

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