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Town of Groton to phase in reopening, starting April 19

Groton — When the Groton Senior Center closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Center Supervisor Mary Jo Riley said it was like “recreating a whole new senior center.”

The center shifted to virtual programs during the pandemic, including a virtual ceramics class in which a driver dropped off and picked up materials for the seniors, and held some events and classes outside in the warmer weather.

As Groton's town facilities begin reopening on April 19, the senior center has announced a "soft opening," starting with the reopening of the fitness center by appointment only. The center will offer some outdoor programs, such as exercise classes, beginning in May.

Riley said the senior center staff are excited to offer in-person opportunities, but also will continue to offer virtual programs, along with hybrid options, for seniors who are not ready yet, feel it’s too early in the vaccination efforts, or whose health has declined from not getting up and out during the pandemic and need more time before returning to the center.

“We are doing everything gradually,” Riley said.

The Town Hall, Town Hall Annex and Groton Public Library will reopen their doors to the public on April 19, with safety protocols and some restrictions in place.

“As the pandemic goes on, we’ve been getting more requests to fully open up,” said Town Manager John Burt. “With Connecticut being one of the top three states in vaccinations I believe we can open safely. Masks will continue to be required to enter facilities and we will continue to request that people observe social distancing. Additionally, we continue to have things like plexiglass shields at counters where the public interact with the employees.”

However, Burt said he is continuing to watch the COVID-19 infection rates, and if those go up, the town would look at potentially taking a step back.

A 'soft opening' at the Groton Senior Center

Starting April 19, the Senior Center’s fitness center will be available by appointment only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Benefit services and Nutritionist Deb Downes will be available by appointment. Classes will continue remotely, and the senior center will begin holding some classes outdoors for the spring session which starts on May 1, said Program Supervisor Kathy Williams. The center also will start pickle ball, limited to four people at a time.

The center briefly opened its fitness center for two weeks last fall, but had to shut down due to rising COVID-19 rates in Groton, said Riley.

Senior Center Office Assistant Jennifer Meakem said the gradual reopening will help get seniors back to some sense of normalcy.

“We’re a very young senior center and a very active senior center so our seniors want to get back,” Meakem said. “They’re itching to get back into the fitness center and get back into their classes and get back into the center and see people that they haven’t seen in a year.”

For seniors who have struggled with mental health issues during the pandemic, she said she would recommend that they call 2-1-1 to be connected to services.

Groton senior Sharon Chernesky said she’s planning to go to the fitness center when it reopens and she enjoys working out on the machines and being around people who keep her motivated to exercise. Chernesky, who is fully vaccinated, said the senior center is good about protocols, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

Chernesky also is interested in taking a yoga class outdoors and has been taking a virtual yoga class three days a week, which she said remains a good back-up option.

She said it’s been hard for her and everybody to miss out on the social interaction during the pandemic.

“Zoom is wonderful but it’s not the same,” she said. “You do see the sparkle in the eyes but it’s not quite the same.”

She said she thinks of the Senior Center as a place where people can go and say "hi" and chat with friendly people.

“They’ve done a lot for the community throughout this whole (pandemic) and it’s going to be exciting to have it open and see people face to face again,” she said.

The senior center plans to roll out outdoor events, starting with the annual Bakers Battle Bake Sale on April 24, the Active Living Expo on May 12, the Club 55 Flea Market on May 15, and a Sunset Serenade concert on May 25. The Bakers Battle, held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is a competition between bakers in which tasters vote for the top professional and recreational bakers, with tickets $10 in advance and $12 the day of the event.

The senior center will continue its "grab and go" meals, as well as a Community First Dinner Program in which people drive through the parking lot to pick up a free meal every other week. The next community meal pick-up will be 4 to 5 p.m. April 22.

Obie Hill, a longtime volunteer who is helping with the flea market and takes advantage of outdoor activities through the center, misses the socializing and activities at the center and is looking forward to the day when the seniors can gather around a table to have lunch and converse.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Hill said. “I miss it. I really do.”

Williams said any indoor events, or further reopening beyond the fitness center, would depend on changes in state guidelines, said Williams.

“We’re hoping that sooner rather than later we will be fully open but obviously protecting everybody and keeping everybody healthy and safe is our key focus,” said Williams.

Williams said staff will remind seniors of mask wearing, washing and sanitizing hands, and keeping within their own space.

Meakem said people will have their temperature taken upon entering the building and be asked to use sanitizer. The center will keep records of who is coming into the building each day, if contact tracing needs to be performed.

The senior center can't ask people if they are vaccinated, so that's another reason it's important to stay on top of the guidelines to help keep people safe, said Meakem.

Library, Town Hall also opening

The Town Hall and Town Hall Annex will reopen for walk-ins weekdays from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The Town Clerk’s Land Records Office will be open for appointments by calling (860) 441-6642, according to a town social media post.

The Groton Public Library's initial hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday.

"We're very, very excited to open to the public," said Library Director Jennifer Miele. "It's our business. We love interacting with the public and helping them or assisting them with their needs so we're very much looking forward to opening."

But on the other end, she said, not everybody is vaccinated yet, so the library will slowly reopen and keep safety protocols in place, including cleaning, requiring mask wearing, even if people are vaccinated, and continuing social distancing with study tables and computers properly distanced. The library also plans to start outdoor programming when the weather warms up.

“Curbside service will transition to picking up holds inside the building or having materials delivered through the Library’s “Book Drop Home Delivery” service," the town's post about the reopening states. "Fax, print, and copy services will be available onsite. Programs will continue virtually with additional outdoor programming as weather permits. Computers, passport appointments, and study tables will be available on a limited basis, by reservation. Meeting rooms remain closed at this time.”

The Bill Memorial Library in the city also announced on its website plans to reopen on April 19, with requirements for masks and social distancing. 10 to 11 a.m. will be reserved for people who are 65+ or immunocompromised by appointment. The library hours are 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Friday; and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The website says some rooms, such as the bathroom, will be closed. Contact-free pickup also will be available.

The Mystic & Noank Library is open, with requirements for masks and social distancing required, and restricting use of the building to the first floor, according to the library’s website. Contact-free pickup will continue.

The town also announced that Groton Parks and Recreation Department will have both remote and in-person programs and is planning for events, including the Tour de Noank 5K Race, Summer SoundWaves Concerts and the 4th of July Parade. Parks, trails and fields are open, according to the post.

Human Services will reopen to the public starting May 17, but will continue to encourage people to make appointments. People can call (860) 441-6760 with questions.

“Entry by appointments only will continue until May 17,” the post states. “Entry will not be permitted without a face mask. Youth counseling will be available remotely or in-person by appointment. Assistance with rent, utilities, food, fuel assistance and other necessities will be handled remotely whenever possible. Applicants are encouraged to utilize the Department’s secure exterior drop box to provide needed documentation for assistance programs."

k.drelich@theday.com

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