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City commissioners ponder opening summer programs

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

How to social distance dozens of young children was the question Tuesday as Port St. Joe commissioners debated the status of summer programs.

And there really wasn’t a clear answer.

Commissioners tasked city staff and Kim Bodine, executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast, with bringing plans for opening facilities for summer programs to the next regular meeting June 16.

The decision, as Commissioner Scott Hoffman noted, is really two folded together.

The city owns and operates summer programs at the STAC House; the liability is entirely the city’s; the program typically serves about 100 children each weekday.

CareerSource Gulf Coast leases the Washington Gym complex from the city and operates the summer program at the gym; that program typically serves 180-200 children per day.

CareerSource announced a cancellation of the summer programs last month, but Bodine said she and her staff had been “all over the map.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis last week lifted some restrictions on youth and summer programs, but CDC guidelines regarding social distancing, hand sanitizing and taking temperatures must still be followed.

“I want to open it up, but we need to follow CDC guidelines,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett.

“I’m concerned we might be early.

“And we have talked before that we may just need to skip (summer programs) this year.”

The county, Buzzett noted, just learned of its second positive case of COVID-19.

The beaches and vacation rentals just opened in time for Memorial Day weekend and the estimated incubation time for the virus is 10-14 days.

“We will have a better idea of where we stand next week,” Buzzett said. “We might end up having to shut everything down again.”

Hoffman said he leaned toward allowing the programs provided guidelines were followed and the kids would be “as safe as possible.”

City Manager Jim Anderson said the city is advertising for employees for the summer program and must have a cleaning program in place before even considering opening the STAC House.

He also said the city would likely need at least 10 days to have the facility cleaned, sanitized and ready to open once commissioners gave a green-light.

But, Anderson said, ensuring that youngsters sanitize hands and equipment between uses or social distance will be a high hurdle.

“There will be a risk,” Anderson said.

Bodine said that CareerSource Gulf Coast had purchased a misting station which would help eliminate contaminants, thermometers and would have staff on site to ensure hand-sanitizing and the like.

“We’re prepared to do what we need to do,” Bodine said. “But they are kids and they are going to do all the things kids do.

“There is no way to socially-distance little kids.”

An additional issue for CareerSource Gulf Coast is that all public schools are under some form of construction this summer.

In a typical year, the smaller children were bused from the Washington Gym to Port St. Joe Elementary.

That will not be possible this year, therefore Bodine said, there would be no way to host all age groups at the Washington Gym.

“We wouldn’t be able to fit them,” Bodine said. “We would like to do (a summer program) but we didn’t know if it is a possibility.”

Commissioners will have proposed plans in front of them in two weeks and will make a decision at that time.

“It’s going to be tough to do,” Buzzett said.

Hall proclamation

Though he was unable to attend in person, Roger Hall, president and CEO of Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf was awarded a proclamation from the city honoring his work in bringing a hospital to the community.

The proclamation detailed Hall’s efforts, beginning in 2008, to bring the hospital, which celebrated a decade in March.

Bridges

Commissioners charged staff with seeking bids for a series of bridges to be replaced due to storm damage, age or the desires of the community.

Commissioners have long discussed a bridge that would accommodate golf carts at 16th and Palm Blvd.

A bridge was once there, but was removed.

Residents in the area have sought a golf cart crossing as a safe route over the stormwater canal.

In addition, commissioners are considering replacing two bridges in the Buck Griffin Lake area of the Port City Trail and the bridge at 16th and Long Ave.

Playground donation

First United Methodist Church donated its playground equipment to the city.

As the church rebuilds it will install new equipment, but the current set is just a couple of years old and in good shape, Anderson said.

And as it would happen, the city lost the playground equipment at the STAC House to Hurricane Michael.