Town Hall Opening Status: What’s the Deal?
Recent chatter on the Community social media page has sparked questions on the current status of Weston’s Town Hall and when/if it will be fully re-opening in the near future. The answer is rather fuzzy and changeable, like many of the answers in the Covid year(s). [Update 4/28/2021, just after publication: Weston Town Hall will open to the public on June 1, 2021.]
As it stands, while Town Hall may appear to be “closed”, it is anything but. Weston’s Town Hall has been appointment-based since early on in the pandemic, even when office workers were not allowed back into their offices. Case in point for this is the Conservation office which was put into a required remote situation and yet continued to function as well as possible with little access to physical files. Wetlands hearings and stewardship of open space continued after the first work stop for lockdown.
Town Hall staff members have always been available to residents for whatever needs they may have–this is one of the joys of living in small-town Weston. The Owl’s top-secret sources within Town Hall confirm that staff, and in particular, department heads, have been working excess hours to make up for pandemic challenges of workers being sidelined, or having left. Several departments have also gone fully digital, such as Inspection Services, embracing the ability to utilize web and mobile tools. A recent generator installation at the Owl house was inspected by photo.
While it has been suggested that other towns have opened up fully, a quick look at our surrounding Town Halls has not proven that to be a solid fact. Natick, Concord, Wayland and Wellesley Town Halls are open by appointment only. Sudbury now has a great site with “Virtual Town Hall” where you can see all that you can do online, and provides contact information for the offices if something cannot be done virtually. Wayland, though not confirmed at the time of publication, seems also to be closed in a physical sense, but available by appointment. Please note that when the Owl contacted most of these towns, a response was returned within an hour–Concord within ten minutes. So they’re working pretty hard.
It is also difficult to compare towns because not all town hall buildings have the same layout or historic age–Natick’s town hall is a whippersnapper–it was built around 2000. In the lovely old circa 1917 Weston Town Hall, not everyone has their own office space and some departments are cramped–again the Owl can speak to this issue because of bi-weekly calls with Conservation that are hard to hear over the background noise plus a masked Conservation coordinator. To try to work within state rules, some desks are surrounded by plastic curtains so the worker can be in the building and perform their job. Not all staff has been vaccinated either, and there are no air purifiers like other public buildings have.
In looking at re-opening more fully (and the Owl questions why exactly people need to be able to wander in to Town Hall–is it to peruse the lovely black and white photos on the staircase? Use the bathrooms? Make an appointment, folks), there are state mandates that also govern the plan. While the town government, the Emergency Services Team and the Board of Health will make local decisions, they must work with the state-mandated plan called the (very catchy) “Massachusetts Sector Specific/Workplace Specific Safety Standards for Office Spaces to address Covid-19.” These standards get updated frequently, with the most current review in late March. A very partial list of standards follows (they go on for four pages!)
- Adjust workplace hours and shifts (leverage working teams with different schedules or staggered arrival / departure) to minimize contact across workers and reduce congestion at entry points
- Maintain a log of workers and customers to support contact tracing (name, date, time, contact information) if needed
- Employers are encouraged to have workers continue to telework if feasible; external meetings should be remote to reduce density in the office
- Employers should establish adjusted workplace hours and shifts for workers (if working in-person, leverage working teams with different schedules or staggered arrival/departure) to minimize contact across workers and reduce congestion at entry points
The Library does not fall under Office Space regulations but instead has its own list of requirements here.
Weston Town Hall will be opening to the public on June 1, 2021. As always, the Owl appreciates all the work town employees (and volunteers!) are doing to keep Weston moving forward.