Bourne Town Hall’s reopening to the public is now expected to take place sometime after Memorial Day weekend. While the building may open, there will be significant changes put in place by which visitors will have to abide.
Bourne Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi addressed the reopening of town hall during the Bourne Board of Selectmen’s meeting on May 11. Mr. Schiavi noted that, while the building will be open to the public, it will not be as if the calendar has been reset to early March 2020.
Certain precautions will be in place to protect town employees as well as the general public, Mr. Schiavi said. For instance, there will be time limits placed on how long an individual can be in the building, he said.
“You’re only in the building for 10 to 15 minutes max,” he said, “and then you have to leave. We cannot have the building fill up.”
Bourne Town Hall has been closed to the public since March 16, 2020, when the state went into a shutdown due to the onset of COVID-19.
Wearing of masks and social distancing measures, such as screens at the counters for the offices of the Town Clerk and the Town Assessor, will also remain in place, Mr. Schiavi said.
“The only thing we’ll be doing is taking care of folks at the window that has a big sheet of plexiglass,” he said.
Visitors will not be allowed inside department offices, he said. The old days of people walking into the office of the building inspector, he said, are “not going to happen anymore.” Those doors will be closed and locked, he said, and only town employees will have access. Meetings with department heads, he said, will have to be held somewhere other than town hall.
“If you do need some amount of time with the building inspector or the health department,” he said, “it’s to set up an appointment because they’re going to have to do that somewhere else.”
People who have business to conduct with the town, he said, will be encouraged to continue either to use the drop box outside town hall or to do as much as possible virtually at the town’s website.
Back in March, Mr. Schiavi said he anticipated that Town Hall would reopen to the public in late April, possibly early May. During the selectmen’s meeting last week, he recalled that the Cape went through an increase in COVID-19 cases that started in the Barnstable/Hyannis area and expanded out.
That uptick, he said, combined with the Special/Annual Town Meeting on May 3, and this week’s Annual Town Election, led him to delay reopening the building.
“I made the decision not to open then; it wasn’t the right time then,” he said, adding that his decision was equally based on up-to-date public health data and what was happening in the community.
Mr. Schiavi pointed out that three town department heads became infected with the virus and were out of work for 15 days. He said there has been no evidence of virus transmission from one town employee to another, so the employees contracted the disease outside the workplace.
“When the chance of COVID coming into the building took out three department heads for over 15 days,” he said, “that’s a major impact to mission number one, providing uninterrupted government service.”
Mr. Schiavi said reopening town hall is not a race that wins the town any award for being the first to reopen. He added that he does not make his decisions based on what is written on social media or on what other towns might be doing.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I have to do what’s best for the Town of Bourne.”
Selectman Peter J. Meier asked about plans for reopening the playground and splash pad at Buzzards Bay Park. Mr. Schiavi said he plans to open the splash pad “when it’s the right time and a little bit warmer.” He said an inspection of the playground has to take place first to ensure the equipment is “serviceable and in good condition.”
“Once that happens, if we get the green light, then we’ll open the playground,” he said.
The playground was the site of an accident involving a 2-year-old girl who suffered a severed toe on a defective slide. The incident happened on July 10, 2018, and caused the park and splash pad to be shut down almost as soon as it opened.
Asked this week if his plans changed given Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker, Jr.’s announcement that state COVID restrictions will be lifted as of May 29, Mr. Schiavi said no.
“Our plan lines up perfectly with the new guidance since the 29th is a Sat[urday] and Monday is Memorial Day, so our plan for reopening on Tuesday, June 1, will align nicely,” he said.