OCEAN CITY – A new Caroline Street Comfort Station received the go-ahead this week with modifications to be made to the presented “futuristic” design.
According to City Engineer Terry McGean, the existing Caroline Street Comfort Station was constructed in 1979. It is the last remaining comfort station on the Boardwalk that has not been reconstructed to full Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards. In addition, the plumbing system in the building has deteriorated to the point that it requires constant maintenance and repairs.
Local architect David Quillen completed a design for the building in 2008 that included larger restrooms, a shaded seating area and a stage for entertainment. At that time, the project was bid $4,000 over its $1 million budget and was delayed indefinitely.
With the Boardwalk currently in its first phase of reconstruction, McGean has met with Quillen to modify the design of the new comfort station. The second phase of the Boardwalk reconstruction includes the area of Caroline Street. He pointed out that the original budget for the Boardwalk reconstruction was $7 million but based on the bids received the budget has been reduced to $6 million.
“The timing now is very favorable for us to do this during phase two of our Boardwalk project which will happen in our next off season,” McGean said. “One way we can look at this is with the original $7 million we can do the Boardwalk and Caroline Street.”
Quillen presented the council with his new innovative design for the Caroline Street Comfort Station. His goals in creating the new building were replace the existing facility, increase the number of fixtures to 25, plus two public showers, create a fully ADA compliant building, provide a permanent performing arts stage with dressing room, provide shaded Boardwalk seating, create high entertainment value and seek low utility and maintenance costs.
There are two solar chimneys in the center of the building that act as green houses. They collect heat that warms the building and that air will rise out of the building creating a negative pressure in the restrooms. The chimneys will also be available to be lit to create a signal when a performance is taking place on the stage acting as a beacon drawing in an audience.
“The chimneys create a convective loop that takes the air out of the restrooms and exhausting it 30 feet into the air, which is nice because you don’t want your restroom odors being exhausted right at Thrashers French Fries,” Quillen said.
The incoming air will be provided by tubes that run about three feet underneath the Boardwalk, which is around 55 degrees so when it pulls in the hot summer air it’s cooled, humidity is removed, enters into the restrooms, and then exhausts through the chimneys. There will be mechanical fans as backups with sensors indicating when air isn’t moving.
“It is natural convective loop and it will occur at any time the sun is out or any time the wind is blowing,” Quillen said. “There is no mechanical energy required at all so your utility costs go way down.”
The primary material for the walls is concrete that will be sandblasted from four feet down, so it creates a satin texture to it. Above the concrete, the walls will be formed with wooden boards with the grain of the wood being exposed giving the impression of wooden siding.
“All the materials have been chosen to be low maintenance and literally bullet proof so 10 years from now this building will not be showing wear and tear, it is very tough and made of permanent materials,” Quillen said.
The design of the building is meant to represent sand dunes, with a vegetated roof or beach grass planted on the roof of the building. The benefit to a vegetated roof is it allows the building to become pervious having rain being absorbed.
“It is innovative and an eye catching figure to have dune grass planted on top of the building and then with the chimneys rising up from there,” Quillen said.
Before the council made its comments, Quillen addressed the building’s non-traditional aesthetic. Quillen is a member of the Design and Development Committee for the Ocean City Development Corporation and said he’s had a hand in the last 10 years shaping downtown Ocean City’s design guidelines.
“I’m a big proponent of traditional architecture in Ocean City,” he said. “But when I got into this project I ultimately decided that wasn’t the best way to go for a couple reasons. I mean carnival in the best possible sense because that is what people come for, the colored lights, the activity and the excitement,” Quillen said. “This building is located right in the center of the carnival. It’s close to its neighbor which is a 35-foot fiber glass shark. So this is in the entertainment zone where people are really down there looking for that level of excitement.”
He added that the 9th Street restroom is a “very handsome building” and is in a quiet area but the Caroline Street building will be a performing arts stage as well as a restroom and it needs to grab visitor’s attention. He also said it is in a brutal environment for a building because there is nothing there blocking it from the ocean, such as a sea wall.
“For traditional architecture to have a level of design integrity you really need to be using traditional materials and it is very difficult to make those materials hold up to this harsh environment,” Quillen said. “This particular design is so that in the next 50 years you will not have headaches with it.”
The last reason Quillen gave was it is because it is an innovative building and Ocean City will be placed on the forefront with this design.
“I am not aware of any other building in America that uses this solar chimney concept,” he said. “It will get a lot of attention.”
Councilman Doug Cymek said that he was impressed with the design, layout and mechanics of the building but had a problem with how it is not consistent with “Mid-Atlantic architecture” that represents Ocean City.
“It seems out of place to me,” he said as he suggested using a combination of architectural elevations to remedy the need to make the building “bullet proof” as well as consistent with other building in town.
Council President Jim Hall said he is all for building new bathrooms and a performing art stage. He wanted to move forward on a design in the next couple of months but agreed with Cymek.
“I like the building and all the things you said, but it might need a little bit of gingerbread and maybe we can get it done,” he said. “I don’t want to miss the opportunity because we can’t agree with weeds on the roof.”
Council Secretary Lloyd Martin was also pleased with the new restrooms and performing arts stage but suggested moving the dressing room so the center of the building would be open looking out onto the ocean from the Boardwalk.
“This doesn’t look like Ocean City to me,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “I can support the project but I think it needs to be fine-tuned a little bit.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight provided a compromise by setting a motion to proceed with the building in terms of its budget and time frame along with modifications to me made with the design.
The council voted unanimously to move forward with the Caroline Street Comfort Street project.
“It is somewhat out of context but I think you can have everything you want and still have it … look not that futuristic,” she said.