May 23

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 23, 2020

Posted on May 23, 2020 at 2:52 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Partial Opening of Beaches Starting Monday

By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Selectmen, in consultation with the Board of Health, have approved the partial opening of town beaches starting Monday, May 25.  The opening is restricted to residents and only for transient use -walking and running.  Residents will be required to show a beach tag to enter Singing Beach. Beaches will remain closed on weekends and no facilities or parking will be provided during this initial stage.

This action is based on the decline in COVID 19 hospitalization cases and continued strong adherence to physical distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, and self-monitoring of health.  The better job we all can do with these strategies the smoother our reopening plans will be.

Park and Recreation staff will be joined by members of the Police Department to help with the orderly use of our beaches.  We ask all residents to have their beach tags out and their faces covered when entering the beach.  The number of beach goers will be monitored to ensure adequate distancing. Especially during high tides, we may have to deny access to avoid crowding. Beach goers will be reminded to not gather in groups and not to engage in any beach games during this initial phase.  Again, the use for now is limited to walking or running along the beach.  No facilities will be open as shorter stays are being encouraged.    

The decision to move forward with this next phase of re-opening was accompanied by robust debate.  Indeed, there were some 90 participants dialed or logged into the Selectmen’s meeting this past Monday – a record!  It is challenging to find the right balance between providing access to our beaches while ensuring the health and safety of residents and staff as well as how to handle visitors to town. Given our unique situation with the commuter train within a short walking distance to Singing Beach, and the on-going health emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the Selectmen feel it is best to not allow non-residents during the initial phases of re-opening.

Our opening of our parks, beaches and harbor will be a work in progress, evolving as the COVID infections evolve and how people are able to manage their use.  As businesses slowly reopen and more people are out and about, we will adjust our staffing and protocols.  Each of us plays a part in making our re-opening efforts a success as it is the cumulative impacts of individual actions that will govern future responses.  This is true locally as well as at the state level as state actions move through phases of reopening as well.

In other discussions at last Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting, further planning was advanced to hold our Annual Town Meeting on the high school football field June 22.  We are working to hold a “crisp” meeting by combining the more perfunctory articles like approving the annual reports, stipulating no pay for the moderator and selectmen, and approving the annual revolving fund for the Parks and Recreation Department into one “consent agenda” article.   Any consent agenda item can be pulled out for further debate if voters desire.  We also plan to postpone a couple of articles as well.  In this way we should be able to approve the needed budgetary articles and proposed conservation land purchase before the evening gets too late as we sit outside.  We plan to start a half hour earlier – 6:30PM.  We have a rain date of June 24.

Further discussion was held on a Plan B budget that avoids a tax increase for the upcoming budget year.  The School District is facing the prospects of large decreases in state aid thus, while they will need to reduce their expenditures because of this, they will likely need the original appropriations from both Manchester and Essex in order to keep reductions from cutting too deeply into instructional programming. This remains a work in progress.  If the Town’s appropriation to the District is not reduced, we will need to make additional reductions in the Town’s operating and capital budgets.  Staff pay, further reductions in the fire engine fund and the Sweeney Park design effort have been flagged as potential further reductions if needed.

Finally, the Annual Town Election warrant was approved.  In addition to the elected positions to be voted on, residents will be asked to approve a capital exclusion appropriation to pay for the next phase of water pipe replacement work. The annual election is scheduled for June 30th with mail-in balloting available throughout June.   

May 07

From the Town Administrator's Desk - May 7, 2020

Posted on May 7, 2020 at 5:09 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Phased Opening of Parks and Beaches Planned
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Plans are being formulated that will allow residents to start accessing parks and beaches in town while still being mindful of the protocols necessary to avoid spreading the COVID 19 virus.  After a lengthy discussion at their meeting last Monday evening, during which a broad spectrum of public opinions were expressed, the Selectmen voted to move forward with a four phased approach:    Phase 1:  Masco/Tuck’s/Reed minor re-opening;  Phase 2:  Beaches open to resident walkers only Monday-Friday as well as Tennis Courts open;  Phase 3:   Expand resident use to 7 days/week; gatherings limited to < 10; bathhouses open but closely monitored and numbers restricted, Chowder House use limited <10; and finally Phase 4: Return to normal.

Phase I begins this weekend with Masconomo and Reed Parks open to residents who would like to walk the grounds and enjoy the views of the harbor. The Masconomo parking lot will be open to residents only (parking sticker required.)  Unfortunately, as a high touch structure, the playground remains closed.  Also, Tuck’s Point will be partially open to allow access to the floats and harbor as soon as the repairs to the storm damaged ramp is completed, which should be within the week.  A small portion of the Tuck’s parking lot will be open to residents and mooring holders.  Consistent with Governor Baker’s orders, face coverings are required when the physical distance between people is less than 6 feet and no groups larger than 10 are permitted.  Sports activities still are prohibited, and the Reed Park Floats remain closed except for public safety/harbor staff.

Phase 2 will see a partial opening of Town beaches.  The Selectmen will announce a date for the start of Phase 2 at their meeting on May 18th.  Singing Beach along with White and Black Beaches will be open to residents only and only for walking or running – no sunbathing, picnics, etc.  The parking areas will remain closed in this phase and none of the facilities will be open.  Under this phase, relatively brief, transient use only is the focus.  Again, face coverings are to be warn whenever physical distancing is not possible and when entering/exiting the narrow way to/from the beach.  Resident beach tags will be required to enter Singing Beach.

In Phase 3, we plan to extend beach use to 7 days a week, open the parking areas to residents only and open the facilities.  Face coverings will likely still be required, group sizes limited to no more than 10 and physical distancing protocols followed.  Limits to the numbers allowed on Singing Beach at any one time may have to be imposed if crowds become too large for the space available (which, of course, is tide dependent.)   Use of message board signs near Masconomo Park will alert residents in real time whether the beach is full. 

Finally, in Phase 4, we will return to normal operations for all parks and beaches in town. 

The timing and announcements for each phase are dependent on what is happening locally and in the region with COVID 19 infections, hospitalization rates and how the prior phase has gone.  Phase 1 starts this weekend.  A decision about Phase 2 is anticipated at the May 18th Selectmen’s meeting.  Some fine-tuning of each phase may be required. It is certainly our hope that we can progress steadily at least to Phase 3 without any setbacks but, again, the data regarding COVID 19 will be the determining factor along with how well people can continue to follow the necessary protocols.  Certainly, to date, Manchester residents have demonstrated strong adherence to the needed steps to beat back the virus – a laudable effort that has kept people healthy and will serve us well going forward.

As a follow-up to comments made last week about recent intersection work: on the ground conditions required some alterations to the new layouts.  The goals of the project – safer pedestrian crossings, improved ADA access, improved aesthetics and no net loss of parking were still all achieved. The specific deviations from the plans are as follows:

Central and School: 1) curb line from School to Central moved 3 feet less into intersection due to an inability to move a catch basin because of a large electrical concrete chase; and 2) landscaped area instead of pavement along Union just before the turn onto School due to elevation differences

Beach and Union: 1) cross walk ramp moved uphill 4’ on the north side of Union due to shallow electrical conduit; 2) crosswalk on east side of Beach move downhill 3’ in order to comply with ADA slope requirements and landing extended straight to existing sidewalk; 3) 2nd sidewalk eliminated on outer edge of Beach and Union curve given change #2, creating larger landscaped area; and 4) curb line along east side of Beach using straight curbing instead of curved curbing. (Even with curved curbing insufficient room for a parking space in this location.)      

Apr 30

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 30, 2020

Posted on April 30, 2020 at 2:53 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Catching up on Various Items

By Gregory T. Federspiel

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!