A1 A1
top story
As guidelines evolve, local camps prepare for pandemic-altered season
  • Updated

After the COVID-19 pandemic led YMCA Camp Takodah to cancel last year’s summer season for the first time in more than a century, campers will be back on-site in Richmond in just over a month.

And for the most part, camp will feel fairly normal, Director Ryan Reed said, with plenty of sports, swimming and arts and crafts, all mostly outdoors.

“The camp experience will remain largely the same, there will just be masks now, and some testing, and things like that,” he said. “... So if you’re a camper who’s come to camp in the past, this summer will feel very similar.”

But with many camp-aged kids still ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, New Hampshire has outlined guidance for overnight camps like Takodah to follow this summer.

“Unless all the campers are vaccinated — meaning all the ones from 10 to 15 — camp will look different,” said Doug Sutherland, executive director of Brantwood Camp in Greenfield. “And because that most likely will not happen, camp will look different this year.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month extended emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children 12-15, making that the youngest age group eligible for the shot.

The state health department’s best practices for overnight camps, issued April 29, include asking campers and staff members to get tested before their arrival, the day they arrive and again within their first five to seven days at camp.

Additionally, the guidance says overnight camps should keep small groups of campers and staff separate from each other so cabins can act like individual households.

“Camp will be a lot like how families have operated,” Reed said of Camp Takodah’s plan. “So if you’re in a cabin of campers — 10 campers and two staff members — in that cohort, masks are not required, social distancing is not required.”

But when campers and staff members interact with anyone outside of their cohort, they will be required to maintain physical distancing, and wear masks, Reed added.

All of this state guidance could change, though, Reed said, as federal guidelines for summer camps continue to evolve and the vaccine rollout progresses. He noted that New Hampshire’s guidance for summer camps has shifted several times over the past few months. This has made planning for the summer challenging, said Mark Stehlik, executive director of Camp Glen Brook in Marlborough.

“It’s by far the most logistically complicated summer camp we’ve had to plan,” he said. “And the changing guidelines have presented real challenges for how we plan ahead, but everyone has been adaptable to the changes to provide a safe and fun summer camp experience.”

Reed added that he believes the state could further loosen its coronavirus protocols for summer camp in the next several weeks.

“And we certainly would be open to that,” he said.

Even if that does happen, though, Sutherland said he plans to keep Brantwood Camp’s policies the same throughout the summer.

“People will be wearing a mask even if they are vaccinated. People will be distancing, even if they are vaccinated. That’s what we’re doing this summer,” he said. “... At camp, we have to have some sort of consistency.”

While Reed said Camp Takodah expects all of its staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19, other area camps say they’re not requiring the shot.

“We are strongly encouraging vaccinations. We are not requiring them for staff members,” Sutherland said of Brantwood Camp’s policy. “For campers, the same thing.”

Ashley Engelbrecht, camp director at the Keene Family YMCA, which operates a traditional summer day camp and a gymnastics day camp, said the Y isn’t requiring vaccines, either.

“But I’m finding that the staff that have come and applied have offered me their vaccine card,” she said.

Dan Smith, CEO of the Keene Family YMCA, said the organization still highly encourages staff members to get vaccinated, but trusts its existing COVID-19 protocols like masking, distancing and dividing kids into cohorts will limit transmission. He added that the Y has not seen any COVID-19 cases transmitted within its child care and afterschool programs this year.

The Swanzey Recreation Department, which runs a day camp at Swanzey Lake, isn’t mandating the vaccine, either, but Recreation Director Ashlee Crosby said many staff members are getting vaccinated voluntarily.

“We have a lot of staff coming from the [Monadnock Regional] School District, so I have a feeling a lot of them will be fully vaccinated before summer camp begins,” she said.

Day camps like those in Swanzey and at the Keene Family YMCA don’t have the same sort of state guidelines as overnight camps, but still plan to follow similar procedures, like separating campers and staff into cohorts, and maximizing time outdoors.

Even with all of the changes to summer camp this year, though, Sutherland at Brantwood Camp said the experience can help provide a sense of normalcy for kids again.

“Everything that we’ve been doing since this all started has been towards this summer. All the stressors, all the phone calls and meetings, the near-constant Zoom webinars, have been geared towards this summer,” Sutherland said. “... Everything’s been so different this year that camp can be that thing that’s familiar. Even though it will look different, camp will be what it’s always been.”

top story
Parking concerns front and center in Keene 'parklet' discussion
  • Updated

Parking availability was a major concern Wednesday when a Keene City Council committee considered a downtown restaurant’s request to use on-street parking spaces for additional outdoor seating.

Machina Kitchen and ArtBar, just off Central Square, has proposed using three parallel-parking spaces in front of its building to construct what is known as a parklet — a structure generally used to create seating areas or green spaces along streets. But during Wednesday night’s meeting of the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee, several people raised concerns about how parklets could exacerbate existing parking issues.

“Parking is in very short supply,” Councilor Mitch Greenwald said. “Particularly [in] Central Square.”

Greenwald noted that there are businesses on the second and third floors of downtown buildings, as well as apartments, all of which require access to parking. He added that if the city allows parklets for restaurants, it would also have to allow them for other sorts of businesses, too.

Greenwald owns a number of downtown properties and also noted that he has a conflict of interest as the building manager for the block on the north side of Central Square, just around the corner from Machina. Due to this conflict of interest, he will not take any votes related to the request.

The committee ultimately tabled Machina’s proposal in order to give city staff time to draft an amendment to the city code dealing with requests to use city property. The amendment would contain guidelines about when and where parklets can be erected.

The restaurant hopes to build a wooden deck that would be level with the curb and have a 4-foot fence around it, Machina co-owner Danya Landis said last month. It would hold nine tables: five six-person tables and four four-person tables. Landis said the parklet would be removed at the end of the outdoor dining season and reconstructed each year.

Due to the pandemic, the city has been more flexible with where restaurants can place outdoor dining areas. Because of this, the restaurant already has a license to block off those three parking spaces for outdoor seating, which will expire after this season.

Machina’s parklet request, made last month, is the first and only such request the city has received. And with no standard for licensing these structures, city staff developed a set of criteria for where parklets could be permitted, according to Department of Public Works Director Kürt Blomquist. Parking availability was taken into consideration, he said.

Blomquist said the city identified four parts of downtown — including where Machina is located — with sidewalks that are too narrow to properly accommodate a patio and where the on-street parking consists of parallel spaces rather than diagonal ones. Using parallel spaces for parklets is preferable, he explained, because diagonal spaces allow for more vehicles to park in one area.

“We want to minimize the loss of parking,” he said. “And how we looked at that ... a parallel parking space, for example, is 18 foot along the curb line. A 60-degree-angle space, which is most of ours in the downtown area, [is] approximately 10 foot in width. So basically, for every parallel space, there’s two angle spaces.”

Any parklets would be allowed only from April 15 to Nov. 15 each year, he said.

The PLD Committee considered Wednesday whether it would be appropriate to codify the staff-developed standards as an ordinance. But Councilor Philip Jones raised concerns that doing so would invite more people to seek licenses for building parklets.

Residents of Keene and other nearby communities who participated in the Zoom meeting were divided on Machina’s request. Georgia Cassimatis, a Gilsum resident who owns 17ROX — a downtown Keene arts venue that rents affordable studio space to local artists — said she’s never had a problem with parking downtown and that parklets are just the sort of thing the area needs to attract a younger crowd.

Keene resident Jaclyn Headings spoke up for Machina in particular, saying they’ve been good stewards of their building and give a lot back to the community. But more generally, she said that as the community emerges from the pandemic, downtown businesses need as much help as they can get.

“We are coming out of COVID, our downtown businesses very much need our peak spring, summer, early fall seasons to attract not only residents in the area, but the Monadnock Region [and] out of state,” she said. “We really need that for our economy.”

Meanwhile, Dorrie Masten, a Swanzey resident who owns property downtown as well as The Pour House restaurant, echoed the concerns about the lack of parking and also said it could be a safety issue if emergency responders needed to park close to the building. She asked that a traffic and a safety study be done before the city makes a determination.

Landis thanked city officials for taking the time to discuss how to move forward with a parklet plan for downtown. She said she understands the concerns, but that parklets would help other businesses in town as well.

“I know that looking outside of the box is not always easy,” she said. “And I know that bringing in new ideas is not always easy. I think this is something that’s going to be incredibly important for the vitality of our business.”

top story
Locals pitch in to help tenants displaced by Winchester fire
  • Updated

WINCHESTER — Virginia Miller raced home from work Saturday afternoon when she heard her apartment building was on fire.

When she arrived, she found fire trucks crowded around the building.

“I saw the other tenants standing across the street watching as flames were shooting out of the roof,” Miller, 58, wrote in an email. “Some of us hugged each other and cried as we talked about our pets and we didn’t know where they were.”

The three-alarm fire that swept through 15 Ashuelot Main St. in Winchester on Saturday affected 12 tenants across five units, according to Larry Hill, who owns the building with his wife, Debbie.

Firefighters were able to retrieve Miller’s husband, Dennis’, ashes from the burning building as well as one of her cats, Mew Mew, to which paramedics administered oxygen. Her second cat, Tiger, survived by hiding in a closet and was found after the fire had been extinguished.

Not every family was as lucky.

Roger and Pauline Webber, both 48, along with their children Eryka, 21, and Austin, 19, were not home at the time of the fire. The family lost five pets, including a parrot that had been in the family for four decades, Roger said.

Roger Webber returned to the site on Wednesday to evaluate the damage and salvage what he could from his family’s apartment.

“You get here and it’s like, where do I even start?”

With a $500 voucher from the Red Cross, Roger, Pauline and Austin — who will be graduating from Keene High School next month — have spent the past several nights at the Best Western in Keene. Eryka is staying with her boyfriend.

“After [Thursday], I just don’t know where we’ll go,” Roger Webber said.

The fire was likely caused by a cigarette that had not been fully extinguished and properly disposed of, according to Winchester Fire Chief Barry Kellom. Between damage from the fire itself and water damage, all five units within the building are uninhabitable.

In light of the devastation, members of the community are mobilizing to assist the residents.

Natalie Quevedo, who lives in Winchester, joined Webber to sort through the wreckage Wednesday afternoon. She doesn’t have a personal connection to any of the tenants but said the Hills passed her phone number along to all the tenants as someone who would be willing to help in any way she can.

“Neighbors gotta help neighbors,” she said.

Quevedo is organizing a gathering Saturday at 9 a.m. to help the families collect and move their belongings.

“We need hands to move people out,” she said. “That’s the immediate need.” She added that the most useful donations at this time are storage units and the use of moving trucks.

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can email Quevedo at NatalieQuevedo@gmail.com.

Maryan Platz, a dispatcher for the Winchester Police Department, has spearheaded the effort to organize donations and housing for the surviving pets. She said she’s also seen a number of posts on Facebook from strangers offering to help those affected by the fire.

“It does my heart good to see this, this kind of small-town hometown compassion.”

GoFundMe campaigns have been created for the Webber family and for Miller.

Amid grief and loss, there’s gratitude.

“Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me and the others,” Miller wrote to The Sentinel. “Thank you to my landlords for being there for all of us.”

The Hills contacted the Red Cross on behalf of their tenants on Saturday, according to Miller. Larry said he cares deeply for them.

The couple is still unsure about whether they’ll try to rebuild, but said they’re grateful for how the town has stepped up to help so far.

“We feel for our tenants … we take care of them and they take care of us,” Larry Hill said.

NH vs. Mass.
Justice department sides with Massachusetts in cross-border tax fight with NH

The U.S. Justice Department says a lawsuit brought by the State of New Hampshire against Massachusetts over its cross border income tax collection practices during the pandemic does not warrant the involvement of the nation’s highest court.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court requested the Solicitor General give an opinion on the suit, which New Hampshire filed last October. The lawsuit centers on a Massachusetts emergency provision that caps how much income out-of-state residents who work for Massachusetts-based companies can deduct on their income taxes while working remotely. The measure, which will expire later this year, negatively impacts up to 100,000 Granite State residents, New Hampshire contends.

In a 28-page brief filed Wednesday, Acting U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court the suit is not of enough significance to trigger a legal remedy known as original jurisdiction, which gives the Supreme Court the ability to settle inter-state feuds.

“This is not one of the rare cases that warrants the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction,” Prelogar wrote, noting that such authority has only been used “sparingly” through the court’s history.

Before the pandemic, Massachusetts allowed out-of-state residents who worked for Massachusetts-based entities to deduct whatever portion of their income was derived while working outside the state. Last spring, the state passed an emergency provision that capped those deductions at the proportion of time spent working remotely before the pandemic.

New Hampshire’s attorney general at the time, Gordon MacDonald, argued this was a violation of the state’s sovereignty, and would potentially harm the tens of thousands of workers now performing their jobs from home.

The Justice Department’s brief rejected the argument that New Hampshire, as a whole, was injured by its neighbor’s actions.

“Although New Hampshire might prefer that its residents not pay personal income taxes to any government, an independent tax obligation falling on a State’s residents generally is not an injury to that State’s own sovereign prerogatives,” Prelogar wrote.

Massachusetts is asking the court to also reject the suit, arguing that its remote worker provision is only temporary, and that it will expire when the state of emergency is rescinded, which is set for June 15. Massachusetts also contends any out-of-state taxpayers who want to challenge the policy could appeal directly to its tax collection authority.

The Justice Department agreed that individual taxpayers had a remedy, and that the U.S. Supreme Court does not need to get involved. It also pointed to a lack of precedence on this issue.

“New Hampshire has not identified any case suggesting that one State’s taxation of employees who reside in another State violates the sovereign interests of the other State, much less that it amounts to the type of serious violation of sovereignty,” the department wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court could still take up the dispute, though there is no clear timeline on when the court may decide.