The Keene Senior Center is raising money for a long-awaited building improvement project, aimed at making it more accessible and providing the extra space that has become even more important amid the pandemic.
The facility has been closed since March because of COVID-19, according to Executive Director Cameron Tease, to keep staff and members safe.
“We know that our members are anxious to get back,” he said. “One of the main goals of the senior center was to address social isolation, and that has been compounded by COVID-19, so the members seeing this building project hope that [it’s] a light at the end of the tunnel.”
With an aim to reopen by summer — depending on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and the area’s case numbers — Tease said he’d like the center to be updated before then to provide ample room for social distancing, and improve the building overall.
The Keene Senior Center, a building at 70 Court St. that dates back to the 1840s, serves about 400 people annually, Tease said.
This will be the building’s first big improvement project since the ‘90s, he added.
The plan is to update the building’s interior and exterior, with the total cost projected at $150,000. As of Friday morning, Tease said the center had raised $43,000 — a $20,000 grant from the Keene-based Kingsbury Fund and the rest through member donations.
A GoFundMe campaign was struggling to get off the ground as of Friday, having raised nothing toward its $5,000 goal.
The money already raised will likely be used to start the interior project this winter, according to Tease.
These improvements will include moving the reception area from the back of the building to the front, which would increase the space in the building’s multi-purpose room, where a majority of the activities are held, by 60 percent.
An enclosed hallway will also be created from the new reception area to the rear of the building, allowing members to enter the multi-purpose room without having to walk through the building’s library.
Deteriorated flooring will also be replaced, Tease said, in front of the restrooms and inside the men’s bathroom.
As for exterior improvements, a new ramp will be built at the front of the center; the only ramp now is in the back. The center’s stairs and front porch will also be rebuilt to meet current safety standards, and the front door will be replaced to accommodate wheelchairs.
To donate, Tease said people can either call him directly at 352-5037 or head to the center’s GoFundMe page, listed under “Keene Senior Center Building Improvement Project.”
Additional time slots to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be added to the Vaccination Administration Management System (VAMS) on Tuesday at 8 a.m., Gov. Chris Sununu announced Friday.
These time slots will be used for people who still need their second dose of the vaccine, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Depending on whether one receives the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the time frame recommended between doses ranges from 21 to 28 days.
Those looking to schedule or reschedule their second dose can do so at vams.cdc.gov and log in with the same username and password they used to schedule their first, the release says.
“New Hampshire’s rollout of phase 1b has been very successful with over 300,000 individuals registering to receive their vaccine in just one week,” Sununu said in a prepared statement. “We are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to speeding up the process, including opening up additional appointments for individual[s] to receive their second dose.”
Meanwhile, Keene’s COVID-19 vaccination site at 110 Krif Road was abuzz with activity Thursday as the region’s rollout continued. Phase 1B includes residents 65 and older and those with two or more serious medical conditions. People in this phase or the one prior — including frontline health care workers and first responders — who haven’t yet registered for the vaccine can do so at at vaccines.nh.gov or, if they have trouble with the Internet, by calling 2-1-1.
One more resident of Keene Center has died from COVID-19 complications amid an outbreak at the Court Street nursing home, according to officials Friday.
This brings the total number of deaths to 12 since the outbreak started in late December, representing roughly one seventh of the facility’s resident population as of earlier this month.
As of Friday, five cases — four residents and one staff member — were considered active, according to Lori Mayer, spokeswoman for Genesis Healthcare, which owns Keene Center and several other area nursing homes.
Mayer said that 62 residents had contracted COVID-19 since the Keene Center outbreak began. A total of 16 staff members had been infected as of Wednesday, Mayer said.
At least 38 residents had recovered as of Monday.
As of Jan. 11, Keene Center had about 80 residents and 115 staff members.
Long-term care facilities are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic because the virus is known to travel quickly through congregate-living settings, according to health officials. This is due to the proximity of residents, many of whom have underlying health conditions.
Another local Genesis facility, Applewood Rehabilitation Center in Winchester, is also experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. As of Friday, 26 cases had been reported among staff and residents, with 16 still considered active. No deaths had been attributed to the outbreak, according to Mayer.
Pheasant Wood Center in Peterborough, also owned by Genesis, reported two COVID-19 cases Friday. The facility had an outbreak of the viral disease in mid-December that ended on Jan. 15, during which 12 residents died, according to Genesis officials.
To prevent the virus from spreading any further, Mayer said Keene Center has been separating residents with COVID-19 from those who aren’t infected.
This is on top of other safety protocols, including daily COVID-19 testing, restricting visitation, screening residents for symptoms three times daily and taking staff members’ temperatures upon entering the building. All outside medical appointments, except those that are necessary, have also been canceled.
Additionally, Keene Center residents and staff began receiving COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 30 through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy.
The two towns in the John Stark School District will face multiple local election days this year, although exactly when and for which offices is still up in the air, as a reflection of a statewide scramble to deal with last-minute changes in annual meeting dates due to COVID-19 concerns and the governor’s executive order last week.
“A lot are postponing meetings but a lot are not postponing — there’s definitely no overwhelming consensus on what to do,” said Cordell Johnston, who is Henniker School District moderator as well as government affairs counsel for the N.H. Municipal Association. “They’re also trying to coordinate if they have a cooperative school district.”
That last point has plagued Henniker and Weare, which jointly comprise the John Stark Cooperative School District. Officials in the two towns disagree whether annual meetings should stick to the traditional schedule in February and March or whether they should be pushed back to late spring or summer in hopes that the pandemic will have eased and warm weather will allow more social distancing.
These scheduling issues are entangled in the question of how to safely hold meetings amid COVID-19: online, in person, with drive-thru voting, or some combination thereof.
Delaying became an option last Friday, when Sununu signed Executive Order No. 83, which overrode scheduling mandates in law and allowed towns and school districts to push back meeting and election dates to as late as July. That order arrived after some communities had already publicized traditional meeting dates or held budget and bond hearings, the first step of annual meeting.
In Henniker and Weare, after several meetings among the five different elected boards — two selectboards, two school boards and one cooperative school board — here’s what is happening:
The Weare School District will not postpone its meeting. It plans to hold deliberative session, the first step in the SB2 process, next Wednesday, Feb. 3, with an in-person gathering.
However, that may change.
Weare School District Moderator Luther Drake has the authority to postpone the deliberative session under state law. Drake said Thursday afternoon that he wants to delay it for months, citing fear of COVID-19 that could keep too many people away.
“I do not believe this is the time or these are the locations, and particularly with this audience, given the average age, that we should be putting them in this situation for what is a relatively non-controversial warrant,” he said.
Drake said he is awaiting an attorney’s advice on his authority, noting that the law allowing moderators to postpone sessions “anticipates a snowstorm, it does not anticipate a pandemic.”
Specifically, the law allows moderators to postpone a meeting for 72 hours. The question is whether Drake can continue to invoke that law over and over, every 72 hours, until he feels in-person gatherings are safe weeks from now.
Such a rolling delay might run into an obscure legal hurdle due to the fact that towns, not school district, control ballots — even ballots on which people vote for school offices. It’s possible that as school moderator Drake can’t push the date of ballot voting beyond the traditional March 9 date set by the town selectmen, which probably isn’t enough of a delay to make a difference for his safety concerns.
As of Thursday afternoon, Drake said, his legal authority in this matter wasn’t clear.
The Henniker School District and John Stark District have both invoked Sununu’s executive order and delayed their SB2 meetings. Their separate deliberative sessions are tentatively set for mid-April with ballot voting on warrants the first Tuesday in May, although that schedule is not final, Johnston said.
The town of Weare is also not postponing its annual meeting, but it operates under the traditional schedule and will not gather until March. The same situation holds for the town of Henniker, which plans to hold town meeting in March as usual.
There’s another complicated part: voting for town and school offices.
As it currently stands, Weare voters will cast ballots on traditional voting day, the second Tuesday in March, for town offices such as selectmen and for Weare School District offices such as school board member. However, the school district budget and warrant articles may not be on the ballot if moderator Drake has authority to postpone the Weare School District meeting long enough; if that happens, it’s unclear exactly when they would come up for a vote.
Weare voters will have to vote by ballot again in May, or whenever the final schedule is set, for Weare seats on the John Stark School Board as well as the John Stark warrants and budget.
Henniker voters will cast ballots on the traditional first Tuesday in March for town offices only. They will have to vote again, probably in May, for seats on the Henniker School Board as well as Henniker seats on the John Stark School Board.
As complex as this is, Drake said it could have been worse.
“The way it was set up, there could have been five separate election days! Moderators have been focused on trying to get the fewest number of possibilities they could,” he said.
Both Drake and Johnston joked about how the pandemic has turned the moderators job from a few hours now and then into almost full-time work.
“We’ve had postponement issues in four of the last five years. The first time people said this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it’s starting to become the norm,” Johnston said. Annual meetings were scrambled by blizzards in 2017 and 2018 and by pandemic-related shutdowns last year. “I hope one of these years we’ll get back to normal and can just worry about budgets and the usual arguments of town meeting.”