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RTM: Town Hall May Open Soon. But …

Town Hall may soon be open again.

That’s the result of this month’s Representative Town Meeting session, held Tuesday.

Here is Peter Gold’s report. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

The only item on the November agenda was a $200,000 request for renovations to Town Hall, to enable it to open to the public during the pandemic.

The appropriation was approved by a vote of 33 in favor, 2 against. There was 1 abstention.

The front of Town Hall … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Currently, members of the public meet with Town Hall employees in a tent in back of the building.  As the weather gets colder this will become impractical.

Going forward, all visitors will enter by the front door. They’ll have their temperature checked with touchless sensors, and be greeted by a receptionist who makes sure they’re wearing masks.

People expecting short visits will meet with employees in the entrance lobby.  Longer visits or those requiring more privacy will be conducted in Room 201/201A.

This minimizes the areas needing to be sanitized, and allows for contact tracing should employees or visitors contract COVID.

Additional UV filters will be installed on the air handlers for the lobby and Room 201/201A, to accommodate increased public access.

At the monthly RTM meeting, concerns were raised about the difficulty visitors — especially those with disabilities — may have walking from the back parking lot to the front entrance, particularly in inclement weather.

In response, it was noted that there is no feasible way to provide access through the rear entrance while still maintaining access security and contract tracing. There are also handicap parking spaces by the handicapped access ramp.

… the rear. (Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

A significant portion of the cost of renovations is for items that may not be strictly necessary to deal with COVID, including new front doors, new office door handles compatible with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and electric locks for office doors.

Some items are necessary and would be done eventually (for example the front doors are old and do not close properly). Doing them now helps make Town Hall more secure and safer.

However, objections were raised about the need for electric locks (approximately 12% of the overall project cost), since visitors would be escorted to and from their meetings. Several members expressed a desire to have access to Town Hall — “the people’s house” — return to the way it was pre-pandemic when visitors could enter freely, visit various departments and meet with town employees without needing to make an appointment or otherwise get permission to enter locked offices.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the level of post-pandemic visitor access to Town Hall is a policy decision that will be made with input from the RTM and the public on how they want Town Hall to be used.

Yet  several RTM members felt that locks and the appropriate level of Town Hall security was a significant enough issue to have been the subject of a separate debate, rather than rolled into the appropriation for COVID renovations.

In other news, Nicole Klein returns to the RTM. She replaced District 5 representative Greg Kraut, who resigned.

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