Local Government and Politics, News

Peabody planning to reopen City Hall

It’s taken approximately five months, but it appears that Peabody City Hall may finally be reopening its doors.

The City Council announced Friday it is holding a special meeting next Thursday. Among the items to be discussed are public meetings in the Franklin Wiggin Auditorium, where council meetings are normally held.

That same day, Mayor Ted Bettencourt said he will announce plans for a gradual, phased reopening of City Hall with the health and safety of Peabody residents and staff his first priority.

“City Hall was built in 1883 (and) it presents unique challenges in terms of meeting the state’s COVID-19 physical distance/occupancy requirements,” said Chief of Staff Christopher Ryder. “The Mayor continues to consult with the Public Health Director and Facilities Director to make the building safe and accessible to the public.” 

Council President Tom Rossignoll agreed that the building’s age presents added challenges.

“One thing that has slowed down reopening is getting the necessary infrastructure in place in a very old building,” said Rossignoll. “The plexiglass partitions, separation of spaces for distancing, signage, has taken longer than anticipated.”

Peabody’s neighboring communities have all opened their main municipal buildings with varying levels of access, including Lynnfield which has been open (appointment only) since May 26. Salem, Lynn, Danvers, Middleton have all reopened in some way, shape or form.

“People have been itching to know when City Hall will re-open to the public and I’ve had no answer for them,” said Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning Martin. “I know that other cities have successfully and safely re-opened their town halls at varying capacities with measured social distancing and scheduling. I’m hoping that Peabody does the same soon.”

Rossignol said the plan would be for the building to reopen for council meetings and later to the public.

“Personally, I want to come back to the building, so that’s what we’ll talk about on the 13th. The goal is to get the building open for council meetings first, with the public still attending via Zoom, and then open to the public soon after that.”

Martin said she is also looking forward to holding in-person council meetings in order to allow the public  real time access and participation if allowed to attend.

“The School Committee has recently taken their vote committing to doing so and PMLP Light Commissioners have already been safely conducting their meetings for several weeks using appropriate safety precautions,” said Martin. “I see no reason the City Council should not do the same.” 

Lifelong Peabody resident Keith Doucette, the creator of the Pride In Peabody (formerly Moving Peabody Forward) Facebook page, concurs.

“I don’t understand why we weren’t open months ago,” he said. “If there’s any place you can easily practice social distancing, it’s City Hall. The thing that’s infuriating is people’s perception that something is going on they don’t know about. 

“People are angry, how can you say you are sending 6,200 students back to school and make us feel safe when you can’t even open City Hall with less than 200 people?” And why are we still having Zoom council meetings when only five, maybe 10 residents participate?”

Doucette knows a thing or two about safe reopenings. He is vice president at PCG Securities, a Nashua-based company that is now providing COVID detection and safety precaution monitoring systems for businesses, including things like automatic temperature and face detection systems that prevent people from entering buildings if they have fevers or are not observing safety protocols.

Ryder said despite the closure of the building, City Hall has “worked hard to deliver the core municipal services that taxpayers expect” since the pandemic began in March. 

“As always, we prioritized essential services  and we continue to inspect buildings, process retirement claims, secure state and federal grants, maintain and improve our parks and playgrounds, pave streets, replace sidewalks and move forward with Peabody’s Clean and Sustainable Water Infrastructure Improvement Project,” adding that that the mayor is grateful to city workers for helping to keep Peabody safe and operational.

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