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Area libraries plan to reopen by appointment

Eau Claire’s public library will reopen on Wednesday to in-person customers, but require patrons to schedule an appointment to browse the bookshelves or use computers.

Closed since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic on March 17, L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, 400 Eau Claire St., will impose limits on how many patrons can be in the building at a time.

Between people there to search for materials or use the library’s computers, a maximum of 15 patrons will be allowed in the building at one time, according to a news release sent Monday.

There will be a maximum of 10 people allowed to browse for books or other materials between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. This is for people of all ages. Children who accompany their parents will count toward the 10-person limit.

Between 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays, the library will reserve time for older adults and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness related to COVID-19.

Adults can use the library’s computers between 10:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays by appointment for 75 minutes at a time. Only five people will be allowed to use library computers at one time.

Those looking to make an appointment for browsing can call 715-839-5066 while people looking to use a library computer need to contact 715-839-5004 or email reference@eauclaire.lib.wi.us.

Library users will be required to wear a face mask while in the building. Disposable masks and face shields will be available to those who don’t bring their own.

People are also to abide by the social distancing requirement of keeping six feet apart from each other.

Those who have signs of illness or have been exposed to people with COVID-19 symptoms are not to visit the library.

Other public libraries in Eau Claire County are also preparing to reopen to guests.

The Augusta Memorial Public Library announced it will reopen next week, also requiring appointments and setting a low maximum capacity.

Starting Monday, the library will allow five people at a time inside the building for 30-minute, scheduled appointments. Patrons are asked to wear face masks while inside the library.

Parents are advised to not bring young children as there are no toys, games or activities to occupy them, the Augusta library stated in a news release. There will be craft and activity bags, and information on summer reading challenges and other activities that parents can bring home to their children.

To schedule an appointment, call the Augusta library at 715-286-2070 or email aulib@augustalibrary.org.

The Altoona Public Library has not yet set a date for reopening, but hopes to begin letting customers in the building sometime next week, according to library director Alyson Jones.

When it does reopen, up to 10 visitors can sign up for 50-minute time slots to be inside the building. After those patrons leave, library staff will spend 10 minutes cleaning surfaces those people touched before the next customers arrive.

The library has some internal and external factors to take care of before announcing a reopening date, Jones said. One of those is the installation of plexiglass barriers at the circulation desk, creating a clear shield to prevent employees and patrons from spreading germs.

When the library does reopen to in-person business, Jones said it will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The library will do curbside materials pickup on Tuesdays through Thursdays. Eau Claire and Augusta public libraries also plan to continue their curbside pickup services as well.

As libraries begin to reopen, Jones said they’re weighing ongoing public health concerns with their duty to serve the literary and educational needs of their communities.

“We’re trying to find the intersection between accessibility and responsibility,” she said.

According to a Monday’s news release, L.E. Phillips and other public libraries are abiding by guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and taking cues from local health officials.

Eau Claire’s library management considers Wednesday’s reopening as “phase one” of careful steps toward fully reopening the facility, the library stated. Loosening or tightening the safety restrictions will be influenced by regular COVID-19 updates from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

The Eau Claire library noted that on a normal day there are 1,200 people who visit its building. Only 240 will be able to use the library each day between materials pickup, in-person browsing and computer use based on the limits that will be in place later this week.

Eau Claire ponders Safe Routes to Parks

To make it easier and safer for people to walk or ride their bicycles to Eau Claire parks, a new plan suggests adding crosswalks, signs, sidewalks and other features near them.

The Safe Routes to Parks Plan drafted by the West Central Regional Planning Commission for Eau Claire’s consideration will soon reach the City Council for approval to become official policy.

“The focus of the plan was to look at each park with the goal of improving bicycle and pedestrian accessibility to those parks,” said Pat Ivory, the city’s senior planner.

Ivory was among city employees and volunteers from city commissions that analyzed all 32 city parks from the perspective of pedestrians and bicyclists. Work on the plan began in March 2019 and included multiple online surveys.

The surveys found that the biggest perceived barriers for people going to parks were a lack of safe crossings and traffic speeds. Crime, feeling threatened or seeing blighted buildings were the lowest concerns among respondents.

The plan also considered crash statistics, neighborhood poverty levels and other demographics.

For example, the report notes that there were 166 vehicle crashes involving a pedestrian or bicyclist between 2014 and 2018 in Eau Claire, according to police statistics. Of those, 99 occurred within a half-mile of a city park.

“It is important to remember that a neighborhood or community that is safe for people to walk and bike to parks is also walkable and more livable for everyone,” the plan states.

To improve safety in the vicinity of city parks, the report’s recommendations include some small maintenance projects like repainting faded crosswalks or getting rid of tall vegetation where sidewalks and trails are near roadways. Other ideas would add new crosswalks, park signs and bike racks. And then there are bigger infrastructure additions such as new lighting and paving sidewalks or recreational trails where they currently don’t exist. Lowering speed limits around parks is also something the plan suggests.

Ivory said the plan will likely go to the City Council for a vote in late July.

“It just makes a lot of sense,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton said of Safe Routes to Parks.

She’s already gotten a look at the plan and endorsed it last week in her capacity as a member of Eau Claire’s Waterways and Parks Commission.

Beaton noted that the new document follows work Eau Claire did in 2018 by drafting a Safe Routes to Schools Plan with similar goals.

“Whether it be schools or parks we want to make it as safe and easy as possible for kids and their families to use alternative transportation,” she said.

By fostering more people walking, riding bicycles or using other nonmotorized transportation, Beaton said it encourages a more healthy population and helps the city toward its goals for reducing pollution.

If approved, recommendations in the plan would be incorporated in future road and park improvement projects.

The smaller ones — repainting faded crosswalks, installing new park signs and bike racks — would happen faster.

“Those are things that can happen relatively soon,” Ivory said.

The bigger changes such as adding sidewalks would come as road construction projects arise, he said.

Rainstorms raise river level in Eau Claire

Heavy rainfall raised the Chippewa River level in Eau Claire, leading to recreational trails being closed in low-lying areas along the waterfront.

On Monday the city closed sections of the Chippewa River Trail behind UW-Eau Claire's Haas Center and behind Hobbs Ice Center.

Those areas are prone to flooding, while other parts of the city stay dry unless the river rises significantly higher.

As of Monday morning, the river's level was 12 feet below flood stage in downtown Eau Claire. The water level is forecast to rise three more feet, cresting at nine feet below flood stage on Tuesday.

CVTC students return to labs

Joseph Kitzberger of Ellsworth saw some advantage when the industrial mechanics program at Chippewa Valley Technical College switched to an all-online format. But he said he’s happy to be back in the program lab in Eau Claire this summer.

“I liked the online learning because I live an hour away, and I could complete the stuff at home without driving,” he said. “But you couldn’t touch what you were working on. Now we’re getting the chance to actually do the things we’ve been learning about online.”

Hands-on, job-focused learning at CVTC resumed this summer, setting the stage for a more significant return when the fall semester begins Aug. 24. Steps like limited numbers in labs, social distancing, face masks and ongoing sanitation of work areas have been taken to protect both students and faculty during the ongoing pandemic.

The difference can be seen in the Industrial Mechanics lab, where 20 or more people commonly worked at a variety of stations, often in groups. Now only 10 people, including the instructor, are allowed at a time.

“When they arrive, we have to verify that they didn’t answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions in a symptoms and risks survey and verify that they have a mask,” said Tim Tewalt, program director. “We make sure they use a hand sanitizer and advise them to wash their hands frequently.”

Tewalt added that although students working together frequently happened in the past, there is no need for students to be close to each other, so maintaining social distancing is not an issue in the lab. Instructors also try to stay six feet away.

“It’s as safe as it can get without not coming in,” said Tyler Kumferman of Eau Claire. “They’re giving us health questions, having us wear masks and keeping us apart.”

Welding students were moved farther apart, with first-year students moving to the West Annex building at the main Clairemont campus and students wear face shields.

“For me, I’ve always felt safe,” said Rachel Holm, a first-year welding student from Elk Mound. “But if you are worried about the pandemic, there’s nothing to worry about here. We all have to wear masks and face guards. We social distance. There’s less kids in class than before. We sanitizes everything. We’re following protocol.”

The weeks the students spent outside the labs was not ideal but productive nonetheless.

“We did multiple things for online learning,” Tewalt said. “We had built-in simulators in our instructional programming. The students would do simulations, then make a video of themselves doing the tasks while explaining what they were doing.”

Similar approaches were taken in welding and machine tool classes.

“When we were off, students who had access to design software were able to do production sheets, so when we got back to the lab, we had a game plan,” said Wally Quaschnick, welding program director.