Public facilities gradually reopen

Jun 5, 2020

Credit Redoubt Reporter

Businesses that closed temporarily in March or April have been reopening at various paces for the past several weeks, while public facilities have been a little more hesitant. This week saw a few more facilities reopen to the public, but with some changes.

For example, the Kenai Peninsula Borough buildings reopened Monday during normal business hours, with the exception of the Office of Emergency Management, the Soldotna emergency dispatch center, and the fire and EMS buildings. Visitors are asked to wear cloth masks when they visit and to call ahead to expedite the business they have before they arrive.

Soldotna City Hall reopened that day as well during normal business hours, as did the Soldotna Library. The library has been offering curbside service as well as online services during its closure, but opened for limited in-person services starting Monday. Librarian Rachel Nash said internet services are open to the public through a laptop check-out system. The laptops can be used for 90 minutes at a time in the community room, which is taped off to promote social distancing.

"We also are asking people to please wear masks," she said. "It’s not a requirement, but we have heard from other patrons that they don’t feel comfortable if they’re out in public and people are around without masks. So we just want everybody to feel safe and comfortable, and we’ve got hand sanitizer right at the door as well."

The curbside service has remained popular, though, and patrons are able to request help from the librarians in finding materials over the phone if they aren’t sure what they want ahead of time. Because sanitizing paper books could damage them, Nash said the library is quarantining returned materials for about a week before making them available for checkout again, which is in line with CDC guidance.

The library is working with the city to determine when the whole facility can reopen for patrons.

"Of course, I know people are disappointed that they can’t come in and browse, and we miss seeing everybody in here too, so we’re working hard to get to that phase when we can," she said.

Nash said the Soldotna Library has moved a lot more content online and directed people to services like Overdrive, Lynda.com, and Mango Languages.

The Soldotna Visitor Center, Soldotna Sports Complex, and parks and campground are now open as well. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters remain closed, however.

Over in Kenai, the Kenai Community Library also opened on June 1 in a similar fashion to Soldotna’s, computer availability by appointment at 10, 12, and 2 p.m., with four spaces open during each time slot. Monday through Friday. The library is open for curbside pickup as well from 10-4 and summer meal service for kids on Monday and Wednesday. The Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center opened up on May 18 for visitors, and president and CEO Johna Beech said the facility had a handful of travelers drop by that day.

"It was so funny because we were so excited about those seven, eight people," she said. "They were in-state travelers, down from Wasilla. That’s about the time that Dunleavy had gone ahead and opened up interstate travel—intrastate travel, excuse me. They packed up their kids in the RV and they took off, and we were able to visit with them. It was really fun. We have more of an instate presence this year, and I think that’s probably going to carry through the entire summer."

The visitor center is owned by the city, so the Chamber of Commerce—which operates the center—is working closely with city administration on mitigation and opening procedures. Beech said the chamber has cleared its event calendar for June, but hopes to be able to pick up some of its normal programming by July, including the Fourth of July festivities. Those aren’t cancelled yet.

"I’m going to say July is business as usual—or new usual, or new normal, or whatever the hip phrase is now, knowing that things could change," she said. "There has been an uptick incases the last couple of days here locally. We just want to make sure if we do provide this community event we consider all the health and safety of our community members. The last thing we don’t want to do is host a large event and then end up having somebody get infected or an outbreak."

The chamber is hoping to move forward with its fall events too, including the Silver Salmon Derby and the Kenai River Marathon.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.