Parks Department Re-opening Effort
Though outdoor park spaces, trails, recreation and athletic facilities remained open during the emergency declaration, all indoor park facilities were closed. The parks department operates eight separate business locations: Bode Complex, REC Center, Fairview Golf Course, JRP 50+ Activities Center, Civic Arena, Missouri Theater, Remington Nature Center and aquatics. All have their own physical location, staff, budget and operational procedures. The sudden closure of those operations on March 19 created layoffs for nearly all staff working at each location. A few exceptions existed related to operations having specialized equipment or live animals needing more frequent attention.
The same facilities have since reopened in a much more complicated process, with the exception of Bode Complex, which was already nearing its seasonal summer closure and the swimming pools, which were determined to not open for the season.
With the threat of COVID-19 still in the community, it was important to safely and properly open public facilities. Administrative staff took advantage of numerous industry resources trying to provide as much guidance as possible, as well as holding internal conversations with park facility management to put together an appropriate and specific plan for each operation. The protection measures went into effect on May 4, when the facilities re-opened dependent upon the physical dynamics of the building, specific customer usage, types of activities and/or equipment offered, distinct services and other concerns unique to each operation.
Areas and items we take for granted are now viewed as a threat to public health. Restrooms, showers, drinking fountains, service counters, fitness equipment, walking track, gymnasiums, sports equipment, billiard balls and cues and writing tools can now be instruments in transmitting a potentially deadly disease. Significant modification of activities, programs, facility cleaning, safety practices and operational hours had to be made. For example, while the REC Center’s approach in its fitness room was to close every other piece of cardio equipment, the Joyce Raye Patterson 50+ Activities Center requires reservations by users for specific time frames to ensure there would not be too many people in the fitness room or waiting in common areas. Both operations have enhanced staffing and cleaning policies in place to make sure all equipment is clean and sanitized between users.
Protecting employees is also paramount. Enhanced cleaning, hand sanitizer, face coverings and plexiglass barriers are now common in all park operations. Employees are not required to wear face coverings, but are required to take advantage of barriers and/or face coverings when in close contact with other employees or customers. Bringing staff back, especially part-time employees, from an extended layoff created some unusual challenges. Several had sought part-time employment elsewhere and some were simply concerned about personal health issues and were not prepared to re-enter a public job site. All full-time employees returned to their previous assignments.
Now, more than ever, the parks department remains committed to the mission of promoting a healthy community. Part of the effort is to make sure staff is providing safe, clean, sanitized operations while difficult decisions have to made about the use of buildings, equipment and programming offered for the next several months. The department is committed to delivering a variety of quality of life programs and services to promote a healthy community through fitness, recreation and entertainment.