By ELLEN ZOPPO-SASSU
As we come off what is usually a celebratory and carefree summer weekend, Bristol is trying to get back on track, with a mix of both cautious optimism and precautions in place. The last three months have presented a series of challenges to the city and Board of Education, and together, our departments are continuing to assess community needs and chart a path forward.
Some of the most notable changes that you can see are within the Parks & Recreation department, which modified the summer camp program to include expanded hours to accommodate working families, reduced the cost, and offered scholarships. In addition, the camp staff will now also include Youth Services employees using their training to support camp staff. The camps are using Bristol Eastern, as well as the newly renovated Rockwell Bathhouse and Page Park Ski Lodge in order to spread out the kids into smaller groups.
Parks & Rec have also used their COVID-19 time wisely to complete the renovations at the Dennis Malone Aquatics Center, so there will not be a need to do the annual closure next month. And despite delays due to the pandemic, the brand-new Page Park Pool will open in August. And while we are skipping summer concerts to be safe, the Drive-in Movies on Main begin Tuesday night (9 p.m.-11 p.m.) with Guardians of the Galaxy, and will showcase different family films every Tuesday night.
The relationship with our community partners has also resulted in great collaborations, including the recent Farm to Families food distribution with United Way which will occur again on July 14, as well as safety nets for the homeless to prevent community spread among the most vulnerable populations. The United Way also partnered with the city’s Youth Services division to provide direct aid to families in need, and the Main Street Community Foundation re-directed grant funds to non-profits affected by COVID-19 as well. In cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and City Council members, we have done dozens of business check-ins and provided supplies to them.
The Bristol-Burlington Health District has been managing data collection, doing contact tracing and working with city departments, the hospital and others to ensure mitigation strategies are in place. Their public health nurses and dental hygienists also jumped in to work at the COVID-19 testing site. City department heads and other community stakeholders had conference calls each Tuesday to share information, ideas and resources. For example, Emergency Management Director Harley Graime and health district staff would travel weekly to pick up personal protective equipment and other items that are distributed by the state using a Public Works truck and driver.
At City Hall, the building opens to the public Monday, but we are still urging residents to do as much of their business online to reduce traffic in the building. Taxes are not due until Oct. 1 and the drive thru window is open at the back of City Hall. If you need renters rebate information from the assessor, call and see if you are eligible to mail in your information, or come later in the summer, since your submission date doesn’t affect when you receive the money. Parks and Rec, Public Works, Building Dept and the City Clerk are also offering online services and phone assistance.
City departments and residents together continue to show their resilience. We are fortunate to be a city with a small town feel. We have volunteer groups like the Community Emergency Response Teams who volunteered alongside BOE staff and residents to hand out lunches three days a week at five different sites. The St. Vincent DePaul homeless shelter has a new executive director in Christine Thebarge, and she and the Board have embarked on an ambitious renovation project in order to expand capacity at the shelter.
Volunteers will produce a smaller version of the Mum Festival at a September farmers market and while we don’t have the Blues, you can still watch baseball at Muzzy this summer as the CT Elite team takes the field as a replacement for the traditional American Legion team. Next week, there will be a large-scale mural installation on Main Street, courtesy of the work that the Arts & Culture Commission has been doing to inspire public art.
As we all enjoy the feel of summer, we encourage everyone to continue to be good neighbors and check on the senior citizens on your street, be a tourist in your own backyard and visit a local museum to help support them, buy local to support our small businesses and restaurants, volunteer or make a donation to a good cause. At City Hall, we will be continuing our discussions on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as defining community policing, monitoring the budget, submitting reimbursement requests to FEMA, working with the Board of Education on school re-opening issues and listening to residents on quality of life issues in their neighborhoods, like speeding, fireworks and other infrastructure concerns.
And lastly, the members of the City Council and I volunteer each Saturday morning at the farmers market (10 a.m.-1 p.m.) and are happy to answer any questions or listen to new ideas that you have to make our community even better.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is the Mayor of Bristol