Wolfville and Acadia prepare for a unique school year

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WATCH: Post-secondary universities and university towns look to embrace the new normal after COVID-19 has posed some never-before experienced challenges. Jeremy Keefe reports.

A small Nova Scotian town is working with its big post-secondary institution toward structural changes they hope will strengthen and support one another.

Wolfville’s success is intertwined with that of Acadia University. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a much different landscape for both.

READ MORE: StFX to hold most classes in person in upcoming fall semester

“We are very concerned with the health crisis we’re in right now,” says Wolfville Mayor Jeff Cantwell. “Our industry in Wolfville is education.”

Cantwell, who has been mayor since 2012, says he is proud of the town and the efforts his government has taken to improve the area for students, residents and businesses.

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The past few years have seen the addition of new rental accommodations, pubs, businesses, as well as projects geared toward enhancing the overall aesthetic of the valley town.

“The town has done so many things over the years that have been thought of as progressive,” he says.

Now poised to experience perhaps their most unique fall convocation yet, Cantwell says town council sees it as an opportunity to provide even more support to those who call Wolfville home.

Council recently made the decision to transition Main Street into one-way traffic, heading East. Cantwell says the move, planned for July 1 through to the fall, will encourage people to walk through the downtown area rather than drive in and drive out.

The town also plans to allow businesses to expand out further, giving restaurants and pubs more patio space to serve customers safely, with respect to social distancing.

“I think it’s going to offer an opportunity for those who want to get out and experience downtown,” Cantwell says. “We’re carving ourselves a unique niche here.”

Main Street in Wolfville to transition to one-way traffic. Global News File.
Main Street in Wolfville to transition to one-way traffic. Global News File. Jeremy Keefe / Global News

“I think it would be fabulous,” says Doug Kennedy, kitchen manager at Paddy’s Pub.

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“More patio space would absolutely appeal to us,” he says.

“It would allow us to accommodate more customers, especially for the upcoming fall when the students come back to Acadia.”

Like all restaurants in a post-COVID-19 world, Kennedy says they’ve had to rethink how they operate.

Click to play video 'Bars, restaurants officially allowed to reopen in Nova Scotia' Bars, restaurants officially allowed to reopen in Nova Scotia
Bars, restaurants officially allowed to reopen in Nova Scotia

Those measures include increased sanitization protocols, employee mask use, social distancing practices and limiting capacity to 50 per cent.

They also introduced an online ordering service to maximize sales, by delivering to those who wish to stay home.

Acadia is also making changes, as they prepare to welcome back international and interprovincial students to the tight-knit community.

READ MORE: Dalhousie University faculty raise concerns over shift to online teaching

Residence rooms will be made single-occupancy to ensure social distancing can be respected by those living on-campus.

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Details are still being worked out on how best to combine online learning with in-person classes.

“We’ve been connecting and communicating with our students on a regular basis since we started with our shift in March,” says James Sanford, the school’s executive director of student services. “That work will continue through the summer.”

Sanford says the uncertainty that came with an earlier-than-usual end to the school year reverberated throughout the community.

Concerns from business owners, landlords and university staff were all too common.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia business owner ‘concerned’ over struggle to pay rent during coronavirus outbreak

Lately though, Sanford says it seems like the town is moving forward and putting that level of uneasiness behind them.

“We’re starting to slowly see some of that change,” he explained “It’s great to see.”

Mayor Cantwell says council will continue to look for feedback from residents and business owners, to continue to evolve as new information becomes available and restrictions are adjusted.

Main Street’s transition to one-way traffic is a temporary proposal at this point, which Cantwell says the town will monitor and, pending results, could make permanent in the future.

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