The COVID 19 crisis remains front and center as we continue to deal with the pandemic. The good news for Manchester is that the number of confirmed cases remains low and, significantly, we have not had a new confirmed case in nearly 3 weeks. (We had an uptick in the number of confirmed cases, but the cases dated back to early April due to a lag in reporting from one of the testing vendors.) Statewide, the surge appears to have peaked and hospitalization numbers and deaths are starting to decline.
While this is all good news, the medical experts caution us to not rush to re-open. Indeed, the Governor has announced an extension of his emergency order closing non-essential business to May 18. Even so, planning for how to gradually re-open is underway both at the state level and locally. The need to continue physical distancing likely will remain for many months. Town staff are thinking through how we can accommodate this requirement while re-opening Town Hall. Perhaps we install plexiglass barriers at our counters. Initially, visits to Town Hall may need to be by appointment only. And it seems we are going to have to accept face coverings for some time to come as well.
What about the Annual Town Meeting? Can we space ourselves out sufficiently while gathering for this important town event? Some communities are thinking about the old drive-in movie model as an approach with the aid of new technologies like our voting clickers. We still have time to assess how we can best hold the meeting while ensuring the health of all participants. To date, the legislators have not been willing to allow annual town meetings via a virtual platform. Worse case is we delay even further and start the new fiscal year operating under the same budget we have for this current year.
Discussions on how we can begin to ease some of our local restrictions continue. Many of us desire to allow access to the waterfront and the beaches in town. Doing so in a manner that still protects the health of all users remains a challenge, especially for Singing Beach which only has the one narrow access point. We do not want to erase the great progress we have made in beating back the virus locally by prematurely opening facilities.
And yet, there are many benefits, physically and mentally, to getting outdoors. Fortunately, we are blessed with access to an array of different options, including hiking trails that remain open. We monitor what other communities, the state, and non-profits are doing regarding access to facilities. The Selectmen again take up the discussion of town parks, beaches and docks at their meeting on May 4th (available to the public via the StartMeeting virtual meeting platform – log/dial in information is listed on the agenda posting which is on-line.)
Regarding other updates, work is progressing well on the improvements to the School/Central and Beach/Union intersections. These improvements are designed to enhance pedestrian safety, better accommodate those with mobility challenges, and slow down vehicular speeds. After many iterations, a design that did not reduce the number of parking spaces while accomplishing the above goals was developed. The Downtown Improvement Committee, the Bike and Pedestrian Committee and many local property and business owners all contributed their input over a two-year period and hours of public meetings. The work is being funded through a Complete Streets grant awarded to the town and should be finished during May.
Waterpipe work is also making good progress. The installation of the new waterline on Ocean Street is nearly complete. The contractor will be finishing this work and then move to Raymond Street where a new, larger water main will be installed. These projects advance our recent efforts to improve water flow volumes to the eastern end of Town.
Work on the Town Common advances as well. All the new utilities are in and the rough grading of the new layout completed. Work on the improved, code-compliant handicapped ramp to the building is underway. A temporary path to the Police Station lobby is being installed. The temporary access will be from the sidewalk along Central Street. This will allow the contractor to replace the old side path to the lobby with a new path with stairs, eliminating the steep slope.
The new Honor Roll Memorial has run into a COVID induced delay – the quarry that is to supply the granite for the project has had to close. We are awaiting word regarding a new date for delivering the needed stone for the project. This delay will mean the two projects will be completed separately.
As always, there is a lot going on, pandemic or not!