Town closes public restrooms in The Merc Playhouse building
By Ann McCreary
Concerns about drug use, vandalism, trash and loitering in Twisp’s downtown public restrooms have prompted the town to close the facilities, which are in The Merc Playhouse building.
The restrooms are used by The Merc for its patrons, and were also available to the public through an entrance on Second Avenue. The facilities have been cleaned and maintained by the town under a 99-year contract with the Merc.
But maintaining the restrooms for the public and The Merc has proven to be a challenge. Representatives of the town and The Merc Playhouse met recently and decided the street access to the restrooms should be closed indefinitely, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said at a Town Council meeting last week.
The Merc Playhouse Society, which owns the building — including the restrooms — had expressed concern about cleanliness and safety of the facilities. Ing-Moody said town officials are interested in possibly reviewing and amending the contract with The Merc, to see if the restrooms could be open to the public during community events, like the town’s annual Fourth of July parade.
Missi Smith, executive director of The Merc Playhouse, said she raised concerns about the bathrooms with the mayor a couple of months ago. “In the four years that I’ve had the job at The Merc, someone has slept in there, there has been drug use in there. I’ve called 911 twice,” Smith said in a recent interview.
Performers and people attending events at The Merc enter the restrooms from a door at the back of the theater. “We have kids in the building a lot. There’s a safety concern … what’s happening in the bathrooms is not suitable for our business,” she said.
Smith said the contract with the town, signed in 2012, doesn’t address how to resolve the maintenance and security issues, and the town doesn’t seem to have adequate resources “to make them a clean and safe environment for children and our patrons.”
Ing-Moody said concerns about children using the restrooms were among the reasons behind the decision to close the restrooms to the public “until we can address issues of safety and maintenance.”
The street entrance to the bathrooms has been kept open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and was locked and unlocked with an automatic timer, Smith said. During rehearsals and performances, the door between the theater and the restrooms is unlocked.
Smith said she also brought up her concerns about the restrooms at a recent Twisp Chamber of Commerce meeting, and raised the idea closing public access. She suggested opening the restrooms to the public during community events like Fourth of July, Art Walk and Mistletoe Madness. “The chamber was OK with it,” she said.
At a council meeting in December, Twisp Council members discussed whether there are ways to address issues of trash, vandalism and drug use. Public Works Director Andrew Denham said his staff cleans the bathrooms daily. “There’s drug paraphernalia left in there,” he said. “It’s really unsightly. It locks on a timer — unless someone props it open.”
Council members asked Police Chief Paul Budrow if he and his officers routinely check the facilities. Budrow said officers do their best to keep an eye on it, but noted that there are privacy issues involved with entering restrooms. Council members also considered the idea of installing security cameras to monitor what is going on, including possibly placing a camera on a nearby building to observe people entering and leaving the restrooms.
Twisp received public funding to make improvements to the restrooms in 2005, Ing-Moody said. However, she said, there is “no contractual obligation to keep it open. It’s a burden and possibly a liability.”
“It’s hard to make a decision [about closing the restrooms] without knowing how often it is used,” said council member Aaron Studen. Maybe, Studen joked, he could stand outside with a clipboard and take a survey of restroom users.
Closing the restrooms would leave the downtown without any public facilities, council members noted. “It seems strange to have a town without a restroom,” said council member Mark Easton. A member of the Twisp Economic Revitalization Committee, Easton suggested that the committee discuss the issue.
Council member Hans Smith, who attended the recent meeting with Merc representatives, said the contract between the town and The Merc “was initially a public/private partnership,” but the problems have placed “liability on the town and on The Merc.” Ing-Moody said town officials will continue to consider ways to address the need for public restrooms.