The lack of public bathrooms in Twisp is once again a topic of discussion for the Town Council, which has few immediate options for replacing facilities that have been unavailable since early 2019.
COVID-related protocols complicate the challenge of providing safe public restrooms.
The bathroom issue came up at last week’s Town Council meeting, prompted by concerns raised in emails sent on behalf of two downtown businesses.
In one, Denise Tompetrini said she was working at the Glover Street Market on a recent busy weekend, and people were lining up to use the store’s bathroom because there were limited public options. “On a day where we are doing our best to keep people moving through the store to minimize crowding I found myself policing the bathroom line most of all,” she said.
Tompetrini said the town should look into ways to mitigate the kinds of problems that led to the closure of public restrooms in The Merc Playhouse building. “It should not fall on the shoulders of local businesses to provide a public service such as this,” she said. “It seems incredibly negligent and irresponsible to promote tourism, invite people to the Town of Twisp and not have public restrooms available. Winthrop does it and so should we.”
(Winthrop has public restrooms at the Winthrop Barn and the Visitor Information Center.)
She suggested that The Merc Playhouse building bathrooms could be opened for limited periods, such as during the Methow Valley Farmers Market when it is in season.
Katrina Auburn, the owner of Twisp Feed & Rental, reiterated Tompetrini’s concerns in a separate email. “I have had my own overflow of public use that you cannot turn away,” she said.
The downtown public restrooms in The Merc Playhouse building, with an entrance on Second Avenue, were closed due to concerns about safety and cleanliness. The facilities were cleaned and maintained by the town under a contract with The Merc. The street entrance to the bathrooms had been kept open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and was locked and unlocked with an automatic timer.
Police Chief Paul Budrow said that in the past, the bathrooms in The Merc building were frequently vandalized and used for shelter.
At last week’s Town Council meeting, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody noted that the public restroom issue has been on a back burner as the town dealt with other challenges, including how to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. The town has a portable toilet in the Commons Park, adjacent to the Methow Valley Community Center. Public Works Director Andrew Denham said that portable toilet is occasionally vandalized, and town staff spends time maintaining it. That would be the same for any public restrooms, Denham said.
Ing-Moody suggested scheduling a public discussion (likely online) in the near future, to address how to meet the town’s public restroom needs. “We can’t totally avoid the impact on business, but we could mitigate it,” she said.
In other business:
• The council discussed how to begin restoring regular or at least periodic meetings of the town’s various committees and advisory groups, which have been largely suspended since COVID guidelines were imposed by the state. The groups advise the town staff and council on a wide range of activities and issues.
The Town Council now meets remotely by way of an online platform, but such meetings are more difficult to arrange for smaller groups that meet less frequently.
Councilmember Hans Smith said that many boards and committees haven’t been able to conduct business and “we are getting a backlog of work.”
Ing-Moody noted that staff time would be involved in setting up and monitoring so many meetings, even as virtual events.
Councilmember Mark Easton said the town should do what it can to schedule more meetings and assure public access to them. “The more delay, the bigger the backlog will become,” he said.
Ing-Moody said the staff will look for examples of how other towns handle the problem, and will solicit input from members of the affected groups.
• Smith reported from the town’s budget committee that the group continues to work on design changes to lower the expected cost of Twisp’s new civic and building and operations center. In May, bids to construct the building came in about $1 million higher than the projected cost estimate, and Denham has led an effort to “value engineer” the project to lower the overall cost.
Construction was expected to begin this past summer, but was deferred to 2021. The new building will be constructed at the site of the existing town hall, which will be demolished. In addition to housing town administrative offices and police headquarters, the civic building is also being designed to serve as an emergency operations center for the valley.
Smith said the town’s hope is now to call for new construction bids in January and break ground next spring.
• The council agreed to explore spending about $14,700 in federal CARES Act funds available to the town to purchase a portable reader board for emergency messages, during and after the coronavirus crisis.