Memorial Field is known for hosting graduates and athletes. But the event that took place on Dec. 2 was likely a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence as members of the New Hampshire House and Senate met outside the Whittemore Center to swear in the new legislature and elect its constitutional officers. It was yet another first in this year of firsts spawned by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This will be the 12th time I have been sworn in, and it will certainly stand out from the other 11, all of which were held in beautiful Representatives Hall."
Organization Day for the 167th legislative session was slated to take place inside the Whit but COVID concerns led to the last-minute change. That had UNH organizers scrambling after receiving word of the new plan Sunday morning. The indoor space to accommodate Senate and House members as well as Gov. Christopher Sununu and the Executive Council had been readied the week before. Monday morning, work was in motion to change that, resulting in 424 chairs being set up on Memorial Field before the Wednesday meeting. The council and governor convened on a basketball court at the Hamel Recreation Center.
“The House has met inside three times since the start of COVID-19. Because Organization Day also involves the senate, governor and council, there will be more people and an anticipated increase in the number of those not in compliance with safety regulations,” Rep. Marjorie Smith (D) of Durham said of the decision to move outdoors. “This will be the 12th time I have been sworn in, and it will certainly stand out from the other 11, all of which were held in beautiful Representatives Hall (in the State House).”
Rep. Laura Pantelakos (D) did not attend the event because she said doing so would violate COVID protocols that call for the wearing of masks and social distancing. Several other House members also chose not to attend. “I don’t believe we should be meeting. This is just a ceremony, no real busines with be done. So I have to respect the people around me and my morals and not attend,” the Portsmouth resident said prior to the event.
To allow the meeting to happen on short notice took assistance from UNH facilities, athletics, parking and transportation, conferences and catering, Campus Recreation, the Whittemore Center, Durham fire and police, UNH police and more.
In June, for the first time since the Civil War, the New Hampshire House of Representatives met outside the State House when it held its session inside The Whittemore Center, one of the few indoor arenas in the state large enough to host the 400 lawmakers and provide healthy social distancing required due to the coronavirus.