On busy weekends and daily trips to King Street, Boone residents and visitors can now rely on public bathroom access. Boone Town Council passed a motion to open the Jones House and conduct research on other options for public restrooms in a Sept. 15 virtual meeting.
“It’s clear there’s a need. We had 140 visitors over the weekend coming to utilize the restroom facilities at the Jones House,” said Mark Freed, director of the Town of Boone Cultural Resources Department.
John Ward, town manager for the Town of Boone, said 140 visitors indicates a trend toward higher visitor numbers on weekends.
Ward said the Jones House reopened because it is familiar to frequent visitors. Return visitors are the majority of Boone tourists. He also said the Jones House could fully reopen Sept. 23 with a layout ideal for safety.
Freed said the back room, which contains a waiting area and restrooms, is open to the public. The gallery and upstairs areas are still locked off.
Other safety precautions at the property include requiring face coverings and offering masks to everyone inside, touch-free hand sanitizer stands and periodic cleaning throughout the day.
Ward said the Watauga Health Department provides Cultural Resources with COVID-19 resources, such as training and physical items like masks and gloves.
While the Jones House has made its waiting room and restrooms available to the public and is preparing to reopen fully, some members of the town council are looking to other options.
Council member Sam Furgiuele suggested at the Sept. 15 meeting that the town should consider portable restroom trailers. He believes trailers have greater ventilation, are easier to keep clean, and are more accessible than the Jones House.
“My first concern is public safety, because of the COVID pandemic. My second concern is accessibility, and although the Jones House is accessible to part of the downtown, I don’t know if that’s the most accessible place,” Furgiuele said.
Furgiuele said a trailer at street level on King Street is visible and more universally accessible.
Both Ward and Furgiuele noted the pandemic’s unknown future as a factor in their positions on public restrooms
“It’s not saying we won’t further enhance the availability of public restrooms at some future date, but it was a much quicker answer to the problem,” Ward said.
The Jones House was built in 1908 as the family home of John Walter Jones, a local physician. The house was given to the town in 1980 and is currently maintained by Boone Cultural Resources Department. The facility is considered a historic building and hosts a gallery, concerts, and holiday events.