HUDSON — The city is figuring out what it needs to do to reopen its buildings and facilities that have now been closed to the public for about two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City spokesperson Jody Roberts said city hall is not open to members of the public, unless they have an appointment. However, Roberts added, "while a final decision whether to reopen City Hall to the public has not officially been made, it may be opened soon."
Barlow Community Center, the community rooms at city hall and playgrounds also remain closed. The skate park — which is under construction and will be finished in August — is also closed. Public meetings will also continue to operate in a virtual format "for the time being," according to Roberts.
Assistant City Manager Frank Comeriato told city council on Tuesday he is focused on communicating with, and educating the public about the use of city facilities during COVID-19.
"Our goal is to get things opened, per the health department, per the state, and let our [community members] understand what is expected of them, and what is the safe, best practices," said Comeriato.
He explained there is a team of employees who are "really working hard" to prepare city hall for use by both employees and members of the public.
"I don’t have any concerns there," said Comeriato. "That’s a great team. That building is ready to roll."
He noted things are going well at Ellsworth Meadows Golf Club, which reopened April 18, with the implementation of county and state health guidelines. Every portion of Ellsworth is now open except for sit-down refreshment service in the clubhouse.
Comeriato said the baseball fields at city parks will reopen May 26, but will be shut down again for a short time in July so that planned upgrades can be finished. He noted there was a recent meeting among city and school officials, as well as the youth sports organizations, about using the fields.
"I think everybody is energized," said Comeriato.
He added "we’ve made it very clear" that distancing and large group rules must be followed. Fields, dugouts and bleachers are being marked and signs are being put up.
Roberts said the fields will be "open for play under strict guidelines."
Roberts said the state requires full sanitizing of all areas and fixtures in public restrooms every two hours. Since the city does not have the resources to meet those requirements, the public restrooms at the baseball fields will remain closed, according to Roberts.
He added the city is seeking clarification from Summit County Public Health on when it can open its splash pad, which he said is not classified as a pool under the regulations. Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that pools — but not water parks — can reopen May 26.
Comeriato said the state and the county have not offered guidance on senior facilities, and the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people has not been lifted. As a result, he said the city is not ready to reopen Barlow Community Center or city hall’s community rooms.
He said the city will continue with "strict regulations" on how graveside services are being conducted in the cemeteries.
Comeriato noted he was waiting for the state to provide guidance on playgrounds and added that playgrounds, if they were opened, would have to follow the 10 or fewer people rule.
City employees recently set up picnic tables in public spaces downtown after DeWine said that outdoor dining was allowed. City Manager Jane Howington said city leadership’s approach to reopening will be similar to how the city addressed who was responsible for the cleaning of those public picnic tables. While the city provided the tables, Howington said people were expected to "self monitor," and clean up their space after they finished using a table.
Howington said city leaders are in a balancing act of figuring out how to open facilities while ensuring they are in compliance with public health requirements that are in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other cities around the state, Hudson remains in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Howington explained that the municipality can open sites even while it remains in a state of emergency. Keeping that emergency designation allows the city to remain eligible for federal stimulus money, according to Howington.
"Right now, there are several packages for reimbursing communities for costs of their public safety people and the overtime costs that they administer," said Howington. "…We can reopen anything and everything during a state of emergency, but we can’t necessarily get reimbursements if we cut off the state of emergency."
Roberts told the Hub-Times that the city did not establish a specific date on when the state of emergency would expire.
"As Jane [Howington] mentioned in [Tuesday]'s meeting, we are still determining when we would recommend ending it," said Roberts.
Council member shares concerns about governor’s mandates
Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) at Tuesday’s meeting read from a letter that he said he is sending to State Sen. Kristina Roegner, State Rep. Casey Weinstein, Gov. DeWine and Congressman David Joyce. In it, he expressed his concerns with the mandates that have been handed down by the DeWine administration.
"Given empty ERs and hospital systems, I do think we’ve done what has been required of us to flatten the inevitable curve and tragic loss of life we will face," said Foster. "Do government officials honestly think we will continue to choke our economy until a vaccination is widely available? That will be a year [before a vaccine is available] if we’re lucky."
Foster added he felt citizens’ rights were "being administratively tossed aside for the fear of what could be rather than the reality of what we’re in."
He told city leaders that the "state … shows our 21-day trends for hospitalization have gone down, ICU admissions remain far below capacity, deaths have gone down and while our ability to test has gone up, the positive cases diagnosed have remained fairly flat."
Foster added that since the stay at home order has been lifted, a "good first step" would be for the city "to remove caution tape from playgrounds and one-way [trail] restrictions at our parks."
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large), as well as Council members Hal DeSaussure (At Large) and Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said they agreed with the sentiments expressed by Foster.
"We need to be mindful as citizens about our rights and privileges that we’ve been granted and to make sure that we are not getting into a situation where we’re losing them and … going down a road that’s going to be very difficult to get out of," said Bigham.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.