Twisp cancels 4th of July event, pool opening uncertain
Two of Twisp’s favorite summertime activities face uncertain futures thanks to the social distancing protocols for combating the spread of COVID-19.
The annual Fourth of July parade down Glover Street won’t happen, and instead may be replaced by art installations along the downtown thoroughfare. The Methow Arts Festival at the Twisp town park, which traditionally follows the parade, was canceled earlier.
Meanwhile, the Wagner Memorial Pool isn’t likely to open for at least a month if not longer, and even then would have to operate under stringent coronavirus containment guidelines.
The Twisp Town Council discussed the parade and the pool at its meeting last week, along with other pandemic-related issues.
Regarding the pool, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the town has been awaiting guidance from the state Department of Health for water sports and activities. She said such activities are generally not allowed until the county reaches Phase III in the state’s recovery plan (Okanogan County is currently in Phase II).
Ing-Moody and Public Works Director Andrew Denham said the pool is ready to open, thanks in part to contributions by Friends of the Pool, the nonprofit group that supports the facility.
The state Phase III guidelines would limit the pool’s use to 50% of capacity, and require 6 feet of social distancing both in and out of the water. Lifeguards would have to receive special training in COVID-19 protocols in addition to their regular training for the job. Phase IV guidelines would be less restrictive.
But Ing-Moody noted that the county can’t even apply for Phase III consideration until at least three weeks after June 5 (when the county moved into Phase II), and the process would likely take a week or two beyond that — and might result in the state’s refusal let the county move to Phase III.
Furthermore, Ing-Moody said, it will be six to eight weeks before the county might possibly move to Phase IV. She said Phase III rules “would be an excessive burden on everyone and impossible to manage.”
Denham said that the public works department has been working on rebuilding the slide and other repairs to the pool’s shell. He said his department has come up with a “mock plan” for operating the pool under Phase III, which would allow the facility to possibly be open during the closing weeks of summer — perhaps as long as nine weeks. “We’ve figured out a portion of it,” he said.
Denham said the public works crew will begin filling the pool, to prevent damage to the pool’s liner that is more likely to occur when the pool is empty and dry. “We’ll fill the pool to protect the shell, whether we have a season or not,” Denham said.
Denham pointed out that if the pool’s opening is delayed for more than five weeks, it may be difficult to start operations because the town won’t be able to hold onto the pool’s staff for that long.
Ing-Moody said the town must “keep in mind all the different factors [for operating the pool under COVID-19 guidelines] … there are so many to consider.”
The council did not make a decision on the pool at its meeting last week. But it conceded that the Fourth of July parade isn’t feasible, and the town will instead look for alternatives that would draw people downtown to celebrate the nation’s independence.
Ing-Moody noted that “congregating will still be an issue” for parade watchers because of the social distancing rules … “Even in Phase IV, let alone Phase III.”
“It’s very questionable how we would engineer that,” she said.
Councilmember Mark Easton said he has talked with Methow Arts about commissioning art installations with Fourth of July themes, created by local artists, at intersections along Glover Street. Easton said Methow Arts was receptive and could provide some funding for the artists.
Councilmember Hans Smith said he didn’t see how the town could support a traditional parade and enforce social distancing, but he supported some activity to honor the Fourth of July.
Easton pointed to the tight time frame for organizing something by July 4, and said he would be in contact with Methow Arts again to see what is still possible.
In other business, the council approved Ing-Moodys’ recommendation that the town applies for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help cover a sizeable gap between the town’s anticipated cost to build a new civic building and emergency operations center, and construction bids opened a few weeks ago. The mayor said such a grant could act as “stopgap funding.”
Most of the bids opened on May 20 were at least $1 million higher than the town’s construction cost estimate. As a result, the project will have to be rebid, throwing off a tight construction schedule which was planned to begin this summer. The building’s construction will now be deferred to next year.
In his staff report to the council, Denham said he continues to look for ways to “value engineer” the new building’s construction costs downward, but he recommended that the town reject all seven construction bids that were submitted.
The 8,800-square-foot building will be constructed at the site of the existing town hall. The town had planned to move to a temporary site for its functions while the new building was under construction, but will now stay put in the existing town hall.
The council also:
• Approved a contract with the state Arts Commission to develop, administer and promote the downtown area as a Creative Arts District, in conjunction with Methow Arts. The agreement comes with a $5,000 planning grant.
• Approved an update of the town’s six-year transportation improvement plan, which must be reviewed annually.