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UNM slams the door on problems in the stalls

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

David Weiss walked into the men’s restroom at the University of New Mexico communication and journalism building one afternoon this summer to find a nearly naked man washing himself at the sink.

Clothing was scattered in the area, and splashed water had soaked the floor, Weiss said.

For Weiss, chairman ofUNM’s communication and journalism department, it was a sign that public access to the building, on Central Avenue, had become a concern.

But it wasn’t the first sign.

Other indications included people locking themselves in stalls for hours on end or leaving behind needles.

“We just found ourselves calling UNM PD far more regularly than we wanted to,” he said.

The cumulative effect prompted Weiss to make what he called the “tough” decision to keep the building locked at all times. As of Tuesday, people entering must swipe a valid UNM identification card or use one of the keys assigned to faculty members, staffers and graduate student teaching assistants.

The building has long had its western and southern exterior doors locked, but now its three northern entrances are locked too.

It’s the only classroom building on campus that is locked around the clock, according to a UNM spokesman.

Weiss said his department met with UNM police and facilities personnel before making the change.

Although most of the troubles have been in restrooms, there have been other problems.

Weiss said staff have reported seeing people having sex in one of the building’s more remote hallways. He had also noticed nonstudents occasionally congregating in the student lounge area, sleeping in the chairs.

Weiss said that he knew of no violent incidents but that strangers in the building had sometimes verbally hassled the staff.

He ties the problems to the building’s location, at Central and Yale. There is a city bus stop immediately to the south, and the grassy, cottonwood-shaded Parsons Grove is to the west.

“My intention is not to disallow the homeless people of Albuquerque from using the bathroom, and I think probably most people who have used the bathroom forever are fine – they use the bathrooms, they come and they go. Fine; it’s a public building on a public campus,” he said. “The problem is the few people who were using our bathrooms for other purposes than they were intended for and in some cases using them for hours at a time.”

The two-story building has single-user restrooms and multistall restrooms on each floor. A few months ago, combination locks were installed on the first-floor single-user facilities, which people had been most likely to occupy for hours at a time, “sometimes alone,” Weiss said, “and sometimes not alone.”

But locking those did not curb objectionable restroom activity in the building, he said, resulting in the new attempt to limit entry to the building itself.

The change has received mixed reviews. Graduate student and teaching assistant Kim Oostman, who said she has found used syringes in one of the first-floor restrooms, said it makes her feel safer.

Communications major Tiffani Watteyne, a junior, said she had not experienced any trouble in the building but deemed it a “great idea,” albeit one that might take some getting used to. She said she did not have her card ready when she tried to enter the building earlier this week with her hands already full.

“I was like, ‘Oh, great, I’m screwed,’ ” she said. “But someone came and opened the door for me.”

A phone number posted on the front door of the building allows anyone seeking entrance without an ID to reach the office staff for help.

But the newly restricted access seemed to vex some going into the building Wednesday. Only a few approached the door with their cards ready. Others had to search through bags after realizing they needed an ID. Some made multiple tries before achieving the right swipe speed to trigger the door lock.

At one point, a small group backed up at the front door as one person’s repeated swipes proved futile.

Because of some glitches, Weiss said, the department replaced the 10-year-old swipe box Thursday morning.

Micah Chavez, a freshman taking a health communications class in the building, said that he carries his ID but that it isn’t always handy.

“I think they should have a front desk receptionist rather than a locked door to keep the bad people out,” he said. “It would be easier.”

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