Friday 19 December 2008

State-of-the-Art Barrier Island Center Bathroom Is An Eco-Friendly Wonderland

Barrier Island Sanctuary Management & Education Center
8385 S Hwy A1A
Melbourne Beach, FL USA

Where is it?

Easy as could be to find.

From the parking lot, head into the main education center building. Once inside the front doors, you'll see a sign greeting you and pointing to the various exhibits inside, as well as to the bathrooms.

As indicated, the toilets are to your right, down a cavernous hallway with a big sign above its mouth reading, "Restrooms."

At the end of that hall is a stone tortoise sculpture hanging on the wall. The door to the men's room is to the right of the tortoise sculpture, the women's room to the left.

What's it like?

According to the place's officiate website, this is a "a modern educational facility with classrooms, an interactive exhibit room, a library, offices, auditorium, restrooms and a gift shop. The center provides a focal point for the Archie Carr Refuge and the associated barrier island by providing exhibit space, a presentation hall, and ongoing educational programs that promote stewardship of the area’s fragile natural resources."

So bottom line, the property is a nature preserve on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and the building is its exhibit hall and information center. But don't let that make it sound like it's just another science museum extension. That's hardly the case.

This place holds several unique exhibits showcasing the nature in the area. You can get a look inside salt water ecosystems, examine at how the region's subtropical climate affects plant growth, get up close and personal with many of the marine inhabitants, take some thrilling beach walks and more.

On the surface, the place feels like a neat locale for a school field trip. But it transcends the kiddie-friendly facade to become something with wider appeal. Anyone who enjoys Florida's natural beauty will enjoy this place -- because ultimately it's a celebration of Florida's nature, with plenty of hands-on experiences to be had, from cylindrical fish tanks to informative lectures to paved coastline trails that take you through mangrove fields, to name a few.

Even better: Admission is free.

And even better than all that -- believe it or not -- are the bathrooms here.

I know what you're saying: After all the national parks we've profiled here lately, and the outhouses, and other supposedly environmentally considerate toilets, how much better is this one to those?

A lot better. Simply put, this bathroom has a lot of ambition and wants to be both stylish and environmentally friendly, and it pulls it off, putting all those other high-profile locations to shame, really.

In fact, the setup and execution here are so good that it makes me want to revisit the other national parks, outhouses, and environmentally friendly locations that had first seemed successful in their green outlook (like IKEA Orlando, Nona Sushi, Whole Foods South Orlando and the lot) and re-review them, because really those are lacking the accomplishment and style found here.

Yes, it's that good here.

The design is pretty straight forward. It's a rectangular room, with all plumbing fixtures set up on the left side wall. On it, you'll fine a single sink station, two waterless urinals, and two toilet stalls (the one in the far corner being the handicap stall). On the opposite wall from those items is the hand drier and a garbage can.

The lower walls and floor are covered with slate tiles, the floor in one-foot by one-foot tiles and the walls in four-inch square tiles. Most of the tile is desert red/brown in color, though both the floor and walls house matted ocean blue tiles for highlights. The upper walls are painted beige drywall, with the tile line cut in a wave pattern. Thanks to the color scheme and wave pattern, the place immediately brings to mind visions of sandy beaches, gentle rolling waves, beached sea shells and sparkling sunlit coral, and as a result once you step in you feel amazingly relaxed. Quite an accomplishment.

Like the bathrooms at the national parks, particularly the ones at Yavapai Point and Desert View at the Grand Canyon, the upper wall across the from the fixtures has a line of windows in it, which lets in lots of natural light. Not so much that you squint at the brightness here , but enough to make the place pleasant to see. If you want more light, just turn on the switch by the main door -- in most cases, because of the bathroom's environmental stance, the lights will be off when you enter. There is a sign next to the switch asking you to turn off the lights when you leave, of course.

Because of the natural light, some of the deeper corners of the room get shadowy without the artificial lights on, but they are not so dark that you can't see what's there or not use anything (as such as the case with the Zion Canyon Main Entrance Toilets).

Beige metal dividers separate the urinals (one of which is lowered for children) and are long enough to create plenty of privacy for the user (take note, Main Street Brewery in Cortez, CO and Tamarisk Restaurant in Green River, UT.) Both urinals are of the waterless variety (like the ones found at the aforementioned IKEA Orlando, Nona Sushi, and Whole Foods South Orlando), only these have a sea shell pattern to them instead of being just plain Jane.

The same beige separator wall material makes up the toilet stall walls, creating comfortable, spacious sectionals that are both comfortable and functional. The toilets themselves are the least environmentally friend item in the place -- just standard white porcelain commodes with manual flushes. But I also like the fact that they're homey commodes, not the industrial ones you usually see in such places. It keeps the place honest, for some reason, and works well within the design. Auto-flush would have been a nice touch, but then again this place isn't about wow factor, it's about a meeting place for style and practicality, and that's achieved here with great success.

The sink is also not very flashy -- standard white unit with small mirror overhead -- but it's automatic and functional. Again, that works fine, given the environment. Strangely, there's no mounted soap dispenser here or in the handicap stall -- instead, there's a bottle of hand soap available. Not a big deal but something to consider in the future -- and perhaps the only shortcoming here, though hardly a hangup.

As you can imagine, the place is immaculately clean. Nary a drop of water or a bit of stray paper on the floor or vanities. Better still is a beach-like scent is pumped into the air, lending a strong freshness to the room. Very impressive.

Even the trashcan, that large black canister, is somehow given a sense of stateliness, thanks to the spotlessness of the place.

And I like that the walls are covered with signs offering various eco-friendly tips, which range from the obvious (turn off the lights before you leave) to the interesting ("Things You Can Do To Protect Our Oceans").

Taken as a whole, this is the pinnacle of eco-friendly bathrooms and should be what all other eco-friendly bathrooms should strive towards.

Marks out of 10:

10. A wonderful experience through and through.

Comments to the Management:

You've attained near-perfection, now reach further by adding auto-flush toilets and mounted soap dispensers. Though at the same time I kind of like the homey charm you have without it. Great job.

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