Ridgefield Town Hall opens again to the public
RIDGEFIELD — The white door below the big gold eagle is open again.
Ridgefield’s Town Hall has resumed welcoming walk-in visitors to its Main Street offices, although with a strict set of rules designed to protect both the public and town hall’s staff of 33 workers from COVID-19 during the continuing pandemic.
“Face coverings, fully over the nose and mouth, must be worn by all visitors at all times while visiting our town facilities,” said Town Human Resources Director Laurie Fernandez.
The building reopened Aug. 17. Hours are once again 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday.
“Yes, we opened to the public today and things went relatively well,” Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti said. “Visitors to our office are respectful of our guidelines and restrictions, in general.”
Among the new rules is that people visiting town hall may enter only through the front door on Main Street, with the exception of people who need the handicapped entrance on Bailey Avenue with its elevator.
People entering the building start by checking in at the Information Office that is the first door on the right after entering from Main Street.
There, among other requirements, visitors must answer a list of questions on their health and any recent travel. If the visitor passes muster with the health and travel questions, they must provide their name and phone number and what office they are visiting.
“I think being vetted at the Information Office will take some adjustment to those who are used to simply entering the building,” Lionetti said. “We are still making appointments for those who plan to come and stay for longer than 15 minutes.
“All in all, I think it went well,” she said.
“I agree with Wendy,” said Tax Collector Jane Berendsen-Hill. “It went well but having to stop at the Information Office will be an adjustment. My staff is doing well with it.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi discussed reopening town hall at the last Board of Selectmen’s meeting, on Aug. 12.
Reaction to the idea at a department heads’ meeting, as Marconi described it, suggested some ambivalence among town hall staff, who have been working in a building largely closed to the general public for more than four months.
During that time no town hall worker has contracted COVID-19 — other than First Selectman Marconi himself, whose positive test prompted the immediate closing of town hall and the town hall annex back in the spring.
“I asked department heads in this building: ‘At what point do we begin allowing the public back in?’ ” Marconi said. “Earlier, prior to the primary we said ‘Let’s get through the primary.’ ”
The group response suggested people weren’t exactly eager to have the public back in the building, but didn’t want to oppose it, either.
Town Human Resources Director Laurie Fernandez acknowledged that staff had concerns.
“Surveying how people feel, obviously, its mixed feelings,” Fernandez said. “People want to serve the public the best they can, but they also have concern for their families and themselves, for their health and safety. There is a little anxiety about opening up to the public.”
Fernandez said Friday that the smaller, less heavily used Town Hall Annex — home to the health, building, and planning and zoning offices — had been letting the public in for the last two weeks.
At the annex, people enter using a “ring” buzz-in system to allow them to enter, for business that can’t be handled off-site, she said.
Town hall has installed plastic screens to separate staff from patrons in many offices. There will be hand sanitizer available as well. Visitors are required to wear masks, and no food and beverages are allowed inside.
“Because of the layout of the town hall, and openness of the building, we are limiting the areas in which the public may visit upon entering,” Fernandez said in an email late last week. “Anyone may enter for business within the following offices: Tax collector, town clerk, assessor. We can not accommodate more than 1 or 2 people in each area at any time.”
Floor markings will indicate where visitors can stand.
“If someone anticipates business taking more than 15 minutes, please make an appointment prior to coming to Town Hall,” Fernandez added.
To go to several other offices — the first selectman, human resources, finance, social services, registrars of voters — “an appointment must be made in advance,” she said.
There are provisions for accessible entry, which can be found by calling 203-431-2700.
Marconi told fellow selectmen that if there was another case of COVID-19 in town hall, or a resurgence of the disease in town or in the geographic area, the building would be closed again.
“Believe me, Laurie watches this like a hawk, or we’ll hear about through the Department of Health,” he said. “We will certainly roll everything back immediately, because the last thing we want is for that to be spread in town hall.
The only case we’ve had in town hall has been me,” Marconi added. “I know, it’s funny.”