Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre is among several local facilities and institutions closed doors to the public until further notice. (Black Press Media File)

Public life grinding to a halt on the Saanich Peninsula

Several key public and private facilities have closed down or scaled down services

Life across the Saanich Peninsula is grinding to a halt as various public facilities and private businesses close their doors amid COVID-19.

Public access to all municipal buildings in Sidney including municipal hall, the community safety building, and public works and parks yard has remained “restricted” since Monday morning following a decision by the municipality. “We have taken this measure to ensure the health of our staff and the public as we all work together to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” read the announcement. “We are continuing municipal operations to the fullest extent possible during this time and prioritizing essential services.”

This move continued the closures of various facilities that started last week and has continued through the week. Perhaps the most significant closure last week was the decision of Beacon Community Services to close Sidney’s SHOAL Community Centre, a hub of activity for the community, especially for seniors, on Friday, March 13.

“The safety of our members, residents and volunteers is paramount,” said Bob Boulter, chief executive officer of Beacon Community Services, the charity which operates the centre. “We know seniors are at highest risk of illness due to COVID-19 and so, out of an abundance of caution, it seems prudent to close for the time being.”

The next significant closure happened Sunday afternoon when the Sidney Museum announced it would close until further notice. The Town of Sidney announced its move Monday morning, effective 11 a.m., and the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea had closed its doors by Monday afternoon after having remained open during the preceding weekend.

The Vancouver Island Library also announced Monday that it would close all of its branches, including its branch in Sidney serving that community, as well as North Saanich. A complete list of facilities that have either closed until further notice or restricted public access in Sidney is available here.

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Two other local institutions in Sidney also closed their doors. The Mary Winspear Centre announced on its website Tuesday morning that it would close to the public until further notice.

“As a central hub for gathering on the Peninsula, it is our utmost responsibility that we take every precaution to keep our patrons and staff safe to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” it read. Sidney’s Star Cinema closed effectively Monday. “It was a difficult decision to make, but our priority is to keep our customers, especially our senior guests, and employees as healthy and safe as possible,” it said in a statement.

Elsewhere on the Saanich Peninsula, Central Saanich announced Tuesday that it is limiting public access at municipal hall and the police station to public appointments only. “Municipal operations continue and the public can reach staff by phone or email,” said Britt Burnham, manager of community services, adding the municipality continues to monitor the situation.

The municipality had earlier restricted public access to Fire Station 1 on Keating Cross Road. Private function spaces at Fire Station 1, Municipal Hall and the Fieldhouse and shelters at Centennial Park had also become unavailable for booking until further notice.

Central Saanich Police has also curtailed its catalogue of services. For the time being, it will not be offering in person criminal record checks, fingerprinting, crop protection permits and freedom-of-information applications.

Activities have also been winding down at the Central Saanich Cultural Centre in Brentwood Bay used by four different user groups. The Centre for Active Living 50+ is closed and the Greater Victoria Public Library closed its branch in that location Monday afternoon part of a system-wide closure.

As for North Saanich, Rebecca Penz, communications manager, said the district is taking its direction from the province and Island Health. “Currently, the guidance is to limit public gatherings to 50 people,” she said. “Even on a busy day, the District’s facilities including municipal hall, firehalls and green waste facility, do not, individually, have nearly that many individuals gathering at a time.”

The municipality has increased its cleaning protocols, she added. “We have also updated our business continuity plan, including ensuring that staff that are able to do their work from home are set-up electronically in the event that the District receives guidance that further isolation is required.”

Panorama Recreation Centre, which serves all three communities, has been scaling down activities as well and will close until further notice at 5 p.m. Tuesday night.

“To support community health and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Peninsula Recreation Commission has directed staff to close recreation facilities at 5 p.m. today, March 17,” read a statement sent out Tuesday afternoon. “All Panorama Recreation programs and services will cease until further notice with the exception of Spring Break Camps which will remain in operation until 5 p.m., Friday, March 20.”


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