Southampton Town Hall is opening Monday, but things will look and operate a little differently.
Public access to town hall is limited, and will remain that way for now. Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said town residents will need to make appointments with departments beforehand, between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM Monday through Friday, when town hall will be open to the public, but if someone ends up waiting in line to get into the building without an appointment he or she can schedule one while waiting on line, instead of being turned away. Meetings can also be scheduled from the parking lot upon arrival.
“The goal is to ensure employee and public safety as the town transitions to full operations,” Zappone said. “We want to develop transition phases consistent with established safety guidelines and overarching state and federal reopening plans, knowing things can change.”
The town has increased access to Zoom-style technology in lieu of in-person encounters, conducting as many meetings electronically as possible. Visitors must have a pass to access each department in addition to their appointment. Passes are color-coded to be department-specific and will be issued at the security desk.
“The more advanced notice you give the department, the better chance you have of getting in and out of the building in a timely fashion without having to wait on a queuing line for too long,” Zappone said. “This is why we’ve established conference calls and video calls.”
The facility itself will also function differently to accommodate social distancing and its maximum 20-person capacity. Outside, there are markers up and down the stairs and across the sidewalk to direct the flow of traffic. Inside, there will be markers along the floor, and everyone inside, who will need to wear masks, will be directed to go up just one set of stairs and down another. There will be only one egress point for entrance and exit, except for those that need to use the handicap ramp and entrance. Sneeze barriers have already been installed at each of the high-traffic counters. The mail drop-off box in the lobby is still available for those wishing to leave forms and letters without in-person contact.
There will also be increased signage not just detailing social distancing protocol, but displaying hours of operation, the need for appointments, waiting in a queue line before entering the building, the fact that face coverings are required at all times, and that tax payments are accepted between 9 AM and 4 PM Monday through Friday with no appointment necessary. There will also be a sign with the telephone numbers of each department, to call and schedule appointments. Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer said, and Zappone agreed and will work on, the need for an email list that will be readily available as well for those trying to pass on information to a particular department. It will be up on the main page of the town’s website as soon as it’s ready.
“Seventy-five percent of the calls we field are passed on to another department,” she said. “Email addresses could reduce calls and potentially reduce traffic.”
The need for social distancing also means the number of people working in each department within the building will need to be reduced. There will be a two-person security team at the desk and in the clerk’s office. Staff will be provided with safety protocols for returning to work. There will be temperature and oxygen saturation assessments conducted upon entry, and daily health attestations by staff — a list of questions to be answered that were certified by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Town hall will also go through daily enhanced cleaning, including the use of hydroxyl ionizers for air cleaning and disinfecting.
“Obviously, we’ll modify procedures as we need to once things get up and running and once we see what’s working and not working,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “The whole pandemic has put us in the position of having to reformulate every single thing we do. We’re reinventing things, and the amount of planning that goes into rethinking how we operate in light of protecting the public and our employees is just extraordinary.”
Subsequent phases of the reopening process will be established as the town progresses through phase one. Changes to the New York On PAUSE order, to health-related information, and local conditions will be evaluated and reflected on throughout the planning for each phase.