The Woodlands Township officials discussed the effects of the coronavirus on several local programs during a specially-called board of directors meeting April 2.

The session, held via videoconference on the township website, was centered on the responses of the township and Montgomery County to the continuing spread of the virus through the area.

President and General Manager Don Norrell said the township is planning to further reduce The Woodlands Express park and ride service beginning April 6. The bus program’s schedule will be cut from 41 to 20 rides daily beginning Monday, while service routes will remain the same despite the lower ride frequency. Norrell said the service may ramp back up if demand increases.

Norrell also presented the board with a plan to reopen the township’s three public gardens on a limited basis for community access to the parks’ dozens of personal garden plots. While most community parks and public gathering spaces in The Woodlands remain closed in line with local and state guidelines, Norrell and John Powers, assistant general manager for community services, said the gardens have not experienced crowding issues and are producing food used by community members and Interfaith of The Woodlands.

“These are areas ... where there’s food that’s being produced for Interfaith, [but there are] also personal [spaces] for folks,” Norrell said. “What we’re proposing ... is that we change the operation to make sure that we stagger the amount of folks that can be in a facility at any particular time and make sure that we have the social distancing [in place] within those facilities.”

Powers said the township developed a schedule to allow renters with even-numbered plots at the gardens to visit at specified times on Mondays and Wednesdays, while renters with odd-numbered plots may visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We would have staff at those times to monitor to make sure they’re managed appropriately,” Powers said.

The board unanimously approved the reopening of the gardens before considering another of Norrell’s proposals to implement a community drive for medical gear, including personal protective equipment requested by area hospitals, which the board unanimously approved.

The plan, dubbed “Help Our Heroes,” will involve a public collection at the township’s central fire station two days each week. Donations will then be sent to the county’s emergency operations warehouse in Conroe for distribution. The fire station drive will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Additionally, Chair Gordy Bunch shared information about a state mental health support line operated by the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD in response to personal health concerns for township staff and residents related to the virus's social and economic effects.

“It’s not just the coronavirus. It’s the downturn in oil and gas; it’s the loss in jobs; it’s the potential loss of a business,” Bunch said. “We already have seen an increase in suicide in our area in the last week. This is a significant impact to everyone because it’s either happening to you or happening to someone you care about, so please be mindful. ... Be your own advocate, and be advocates for others.”

Finally, the board approved the creation of a new budget task force to examine options addressing projected funding shortfalls in the township’s annual budget due to the coronavirus pandemic. Monique Sharp, assistant general manager for finance, said the task force would examine several revenue models and funding options to present a budgeting recommendation to the board ahead of the township’s budget workshops in August.

“This would then give staff a road map to follow as the financial impacts become known in the coming months,” Sharp said.

The process would also involve tentative planning ahead for the 2021 budget, which is expected to see shortfalls caused by the coronavirus as well.

The task force's creation was approved unanimously by directors. Bunch also requested guidance from the group regarding the township’s options to apply for state or federal economic aid included in recent relief packages.