COVID-19 Milestone: City Hall Re-Opens Its Doors for Limited Operations

Were anyone to assert last February that City Hall being open for business was a milestone worthy of the shedding of a few tears, it would have been more than puzzling – if not laughable.

But the cruel tool to fate has made it just that, as City officials opened City Hall for limited operations on Monday and it was an emotional, and happy, milestone for a City that has suffered tremendously with massive levels of COVID-19 infections and long lines of hungry residents no longer able to provide food for their families.

Mike Sandoval of the Department of Public Works opens up the Washington Avenue entry door to City Hall on Monday, opening up the Hall for the first time to the public since March due to COVID-19 restrictions. As the City went through – and continues to – go through high infection rates and large amounts of people without food, many City workers transitioned to essential food distribution work. Now, many are back at City Hall mostly performing their pre-COVID jobs. Most offices were only open by appointment, but the City Clerk and Treasurer were open to walk-ins.

So, City Hall opening was a semblance of order and return to what might be better times.

“We’re excited,” said Mike Sandoval of the DPW, who had the pleasure of opening the door to residents for the first time since mid-March. “We want it to become normal because people need to get back. We know there will need to be time to adapt, but we’re here to help and happy this city is coming back.”

Fidel Maltez, DPW director, said he and his staff and members of the administration worked to figure out the best way to re-open the seat of City business. They have limited walk-ins to the City Clerk’s office and the Treasurer’s Office to pay bills – and staff members are outside to help residents figure out if they have all they need so they don’t congregate inside needlessly.

Other departments can be access with appointments only, calling 3-1-1 (which is 617.466.4209 outside of Chelsea) to schedule those times.

There is one entrance – on Washington Avenue near the lot – and one exit – on the Broadway side. Inside they have stickers for people to stand on in line to keep them at the right distance. Cleaning crews move through rapidly all the time, with custodial staff on duty. Surfaces are wiped down after every customer comes to a window, and the Treasurer’s Office has been built out with new walls and a window screen.

“It feels good to be open,” said Maltez. “People have been excited to be able to come in and pay their tax bills, get parking stickers and to pay excise taxes. Chelsea has a large population of cash-only businesses and online payment isn’t an option for them.”

The Hall is open Monday to Friday with limited hours – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, and 9 a.m. to noon on Friday.

At the Clerk’s Office, Hector Velez was taking customers at his window and preparing for the new normal – which includes wiping and sanitizing all surfaces after each customer visit.

“It feels good to be back working in person with people,” he said. “I’m glad we’re doing all these things to make sure we can help stop the spread.”

Outside, greeting residents, was Yareli Arenas. Residents were filling out forms to indicate what they wanted to do inside. She said it felt good to be able to help people again face-to-face.

“I’m excited it’s come to the time when we can welcome people back,” she said. “People have been inside for a while now and they are starting to go out again.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he was admittedly nervous about opening City Hall. Not many City Halls have opened yet – including Everett and Revere – and Chelsea was a hot spot for some time. Brining people back inside made him nervous.

But by Wednesday, it was going very well.

“I think it has gone well and probably better than we thought it would,” he said. “There are a lot of unbanked people in our community and we needed to accommodate them so they could pay by cash. That required City Hall to be open and the deadline for these bills by law is June 29. We didn’t want penalties for them. This was also some symbolic point to it as well that was a positive one.”

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