Douglas County Commission orders most county facilities closed to the public

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky explains the county's plans to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including closing buildings to the public, during the County Commission meeting on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

The Douglas County Commission ordered most of the county’s facilities to be closed to the public during its meeting on Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the approved closure of facilities will bar the public from most of the county’s buildings, but county business will continue. Facilities will remain open only to county employees and “critical” business and mail deliveries, she said.

“It’s important to remember here that all county operations are still continuing the best that they can during this process,” Plinsky said, noting the county previously requested that residents use the county’s online resources for services. “We want to send the message that Douglas County is still open for business.”

The decision to close the facilities to the public comes after the order from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health to limit public gatherings to 10 people earlier on Wednesday.

Although the health department did not order the closure of government buildings, Plinsky said county staff believed it was a wise decision to follow suit. The facilities will be closed until the County Commission approves another order opening them, she said.

Some buildings, however, will continue with previously announced restricted public access. The previous guidelines of restricted public access apply to the Douglas County District Court, Douglas County Jail and Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center.

Additionally, the Douglas County Courthouse, which is the county’s main administrative office, will briefly reopen to the public for County Commission meetings, which are subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Plinsky said the County Commission plans to continue meeting as scheduled but will likely try to keep meetings short to limit the amount of public interaction amid the pandemic.

In other business:

• The commissioners approved declaring a state of emergency for Douglas County in response to the pandemic. The declaration will last 60 days and is retroactive to Tuesday, when a case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the county.

Robert Bieniecki, director of emergency management, said the declaration makes sure the county has access to additional resources from the state and federal governments and other benefits that may be needed in response to the pandemic.

• The commissioners approved selecting Mar Lan Construction to serve as the construction manager at risk for the county’s proposed behavioral health crisis center in Lawrence.

Mar Lan Construction will receive $20,000 to provide pre-construction services for the project. Once pre-construction services are completed, Mar Lan will work to provide a guaranteed maximum price for the project to the commission.

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