What a space of waste! Prospect Park wins award for its beautiful bathroom • Brooklyn Paper

What a space of waste! Prospect Park wins award for its beautiful bathroom

Well done: Local landmarking advocates awarded Prospect Park Alliance with a prestigious preservation award for their restoration of a historic wellhouse at the park.
New York Landmarks Conservancy

It’s a win for their number two building!

A group of local landmarks advocates honored Prospect Park’s caretakers with the prestigious Lucy G. Moses Award for their restoration of a 150-year-old building located within the sprawling green space, with the group’s leader praising the decision to transform the historic structure into a high-tech outhouse as a prime example of preservation done right.

“It’s the first time we’ve given the award for a bathroom,” said New York Landmarks Conservancy President Peg Breen. “We always say that historic buildings can be repurposed for modern uses and here is one more good example!”

The Prospect Park Alliance beat out a few dozen other would-be honorees to net the annual distinction for its restoration of the Prospect Park Wellhouse, after workers equipped the historic structure with a high-tech green latrine, which uses 97 percent less water than standard toilets, and converts human waste into plant food.

The wellhouse, built in 1869, is the only building within Prospect Park that was designed by meadow architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. So the structure not only has considerable historic value, but it looks snazzy too, with lively Gothic embellishments and a vibrant paint job, according to Breen.

“We think it’s a very important building, and it’s really quite elaborate, with all kinds of Gothic and stylistic details,” she said.

The building was used to pump fresh water into Prospect Park Lake until sometime after 1914, when the park began drawing water from municipal aquifers. Workers would eventually fill in the building’s namesake well, and over the next century the structure suffered considerable damage and deterioration.

As part of the Alliance’s $2.34 million renovation project, workers dug exploratory holes that revealed a large void beneath the building. Further excavation unearthed the Wellhouse’s original cellar, along with a tunnel and a bluestone stairwell linking the newly uncovered lower level to the surface.

All that additional space made the wellhouse the perfect spot for a high-tech loo, which requires a living ecosystem of bacteria and other organisms to break human poop down into usable compost. The new lavatory also features an irrigation system that takes undrinkable waste water from the bathroom and sprinkles it over nearby plants — which will save the park a whopping 250,000 gallons of water per year.

The Landmarks Conservancy will hand over the award to the Prospect Park Alliance and four other winners — all of which are located in Brooklyn — amid a snazzy gala at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel on Apr. 23.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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