SOUTHWICK/WESTFIELD – The Southwick Town Hall and Westfield City Hall remain mostly closed to the public, for now.
Southwick Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart said he and the Southwick Select Board are working closely with Health Director Tammy Spencer to safely open the entire building.
“Tammy continues to monitor all the different metrics,” said Stinehart, noting that Southwick has been designated a “red” community in recent weeks.
The state issues a color to communities to denote its COVID risk. Southwick is in the high-risk category, while Westfield is designated yellow, indicating a moderate risk. The population of a community factors into the risk designation.
When Spencer believes it’s a safer situation to open, Town Hall staff is ready, said Stinehart. The north lobby – the side entrance by the Town Clerk and Assessor’s office – has been open for months to the public.
“The clerk’s office has a big glass window and the assessor’s office has plexiglass in place,” Stinehart said.
Employees largely returned to their offices last May and many meet with citizens in the north lobby, or even outside, to conduct business. Stinehart said municipal business has been uninterrupted for much of the pandemic, just conducted differently than usual.
“We have a lot of square footage and we were able to add plexiglass dividers in some offices and staff are socially distanced,” Stinehart said.
Other municipal buildings, including Westfield City Hall, have been almost completely closed to the public. City Hall staff have continued to work throughout the pandemic, with most offices combining staggering shifts in person with remote work. The public, however, has been shut out for the past year. Mayor Donald F. Humason said this week April 20 is the target date to reopen.
Humason, who was lifted from quarantine March 28 after having COVID, had hoped to open sooner but said during a video release that he wants to proceed with the utmost precaution.
Stinehart said Southwick is also exercising caution but he hopes that as vaccinations become more available, municipal offices will open quickly.
“I’m hopeful that as vaccinations are available it will be a big part in opening,” he said, noting that “it’s great that we can have a vaccination site at The Big E, but now we need to get the vaccines.”
Stinehart said that although it has been a slow road, he believes reopening Town Hall is coming soon, but COVID isn’t going away soon.
“The future holds more issues with continued cleaning protocols and making sure we are able to accommodate in-person meetings,” said Stinehart, adding that some committees may continue meeting via zoom for some time. He said even the Town Hall auditorium may not be able to hold very many people socially distanced.
Select Board chair Doug Moglin said last week that the zoom option could continue even after boards and committees can meet in person again. And Stinehart said masks will remain important to keeping people healthy.
“Evan after most people are vaccinated and we can do more things in-person, it will be fall, and what comes in fall? Flu season,” he said. “I think masks will be something we want to continue.”
The Southwick Select Board has Town Hall reopening as a standing agenda item for weekly discussion and updates, The board meets Mondays at 5:30 p.m. A zoom link is listed on its agenda at southwickma.org.