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After several weeks of having its collective doors shut during the COVID-19 pandemic, the community rec industry is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Since late May and early June, community rec facilities around the country have begun the reopening process. Each organization has had its own unique set of experiences and challenges, from varying cleanliness and distancing standards to varying state and regional timelines for when they’re allowed to reopen.

At the YMCA of Greater Louisville, most questions they’ve received from members have surrounded cleanliness. Although, surprisingly, much of their concern was about the safety of staff members.

“Based on information from our own surveys and colleagues, the No. 1 question that was raised by our participants was (and is), ‘What are you doing to protect our health and safety, along with that of your staff?’” said Steve Tarver, the president and CEO of the Louisville Y.

The Louisville Y, much like many other organizations, has taken a “phased approach” to reopening — only opening certain facilities, then opening specific sections of those facilities and allowing a certain number of people inside at a time.

Despite these limitations, however, members have been appreciative and understanding, according to Tarver. “Hundreds of hours were put into [reopening] plans that were driven by our mission, with safety as our guide,” he shared. “Early feedback has been extremely positive and appreciative by those returning.”

The Wills Valley Recreation Center, a Fort Payne Parks and Recreation facility in Fort Payne, Alabama, has also opened at a limited capacity, which has created a few challenges for the department to overcome.

“Right now, one of our biggest challenges is continuing to educate people on what recreation is and how much work is done behind the scenes to make programs work and facilities run smoothly,” said Robin Brothers, the director of Fort Payne Parks and Recreation.

For example, the organization has received comments that they should turn on their Splash Pad and outdoor pool, and leave them running 24/7. “The general public does not always realize how much work goes into ensuring safe facilities, training staff, maintenance work and general opening processes for these facilities, not to mention operational costs,” said Brothers. “It’s not as easy as flipping a switch.”

That’s not to say all members feel inconvenienced by stricter operational standards. The majority of the Wills Valley Rec Center’s membership has expressed appreciation for the care the organization is taking in prioritizing everyone’s safety.

“We are grateful our members are very understanding of capacity restrictions, locker rooms being closed at our rec center, and new policies related to COVID-19,” said Brothers.

Brothers also pointed to her staff as a big reason the reopening process has been successful. “Our staff has been fantastic as we work through these unchartered waters,” she said. “We have all pulled together and continued to promote health, fun and family in the City of Fort Payne and surrounding areas.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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