South County towns prep for open-air Annual Town Meetings

  • Voters at the 2016 Deerfield Annual Town Meeting look over the budget at Frontier Regional School. This year’s Town Meeting, set for Monday, will be the first in a series of outdoor meetings expected to take place in South County this year. Staff File Photo/Matt Burkhartt

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2020 1:03:42 PM

The upcoming Annual Town Meeting in Deerfield will be the first in a series of outdoor meetings expected to take place in South County this year.

“We just really want to make sure that people know this is going to be a safe event, and we want to welcome our community, our voters, to come to Town Meeting this year,” said Deerfield Police Sgt. Adam Sokoloski. “It’s definitely a new environment. It’s a new age with the COVID-19, but we have been working on this for several weeks.”

The meeting on Monday is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at Frontier Regional School’s football field. Check-in for registered voters will begin at 5 p.m. at the front entrance of the football field.

“We have taken all the precautions,” said Sokoloski, who was part of the planning team for the event. “There will be plenty of room for social distancing.”

Sokoloski said golf carts will be available to individuals who require assistance getting to the field from the parking areas at Frontier and Deerfield Elementary School on Pleasant Street.

When residents arrive to the field, cones will be set up marking where they should sit to be 6 feet apart, he said. Although some chairs will be provided, residents are encouraged to bring their own.

Per state guidelines, face masks or coverings should be worn in any situation on Monday where separate household units cannot maintain a safe social distance.

Sokoloski, who said holding Annual Town Meeting outdoors on Monday will be a historic first for the town, said attendance at the meeting has ranged from 100 to 300 voters in recent years.

“We’re prepared to accommodate what we would see for a large Town Meeting,” he noted.

Elsewhere in the county, Sunderland and Conway have also approved outdoor Town Meetings.

The Annual Town Meeting on June 6 in Sunderland is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. at Riverside Park behind the Town Office on School Street. Similar to Deerfield, residents are asked to wear face masks and to bring their own chairs.

Social distancing practices will be in place and strictly enforced, according to a notice on the town website.

The Conway Selectboard has also approved holding its June 20 Annual Town Meeting outdoors, but it has not yet decided on a location. Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson said he expects the board to make a decision at its Monday night board meeting.

Hutcheson said the board is currently exploring the option of using the field outside Conway Grammar School on Fournier Road.

Whately undecided

Officials in Whately, however, are still weighing both indoor and outdoor options for its Annual Town Meeting, currently scheduled to take place on June 23.

Up until its most recent Selectboard meeting, officials were considering using the Whately Elementary School gymnasium — with the cafe as overflow — for the Town Meeting in June.

“We think indoor is viable, but we were asked to consider some outdoor venues,” said Selectboard Chair Joyce Palmer-Fortune.

At the May 27 meeting, members discussed the field outside the elementary school as a potential location.

With social distancing in place, the field — which is about 100 feet by 200 feet, according to a map displayed at the meeting — could fit “somewhere within the region of 400 people,” Palmer-Fortune said.

She said the main consideration with respect to using the field is ensuring there is enough electricity. She noted there is an on-site light post that has an outlet, and that there are accessible outdoor outlets on the school building.

“We may need to look into it,” she said, indicating the necessary extension cables would need to cross a road.

The outdoor setting also likely means the time would need to be pushed up an hour to accommodate for sunset.

Selectboard member Jonathan Edwards expressed concern for the risk of mosquitoes at an outdoor evening event. He also noted that noise distraction, such as wind, could make it difficult to hear speakers.

The possibility of using Quonquont Farm as an outdoor venue was addressed by member Frederick Orloski.

The board agreed to continue research into the different possibilities, and expects to make a decision at the next meeting.

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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