It’s never too soon to think about reopening rec centers.
That was Lindy Fenex’s response when asked about planning for the reopening of the University of California, Riverside’s (UC Riverside) rec center in April 2020. “As folk have been isolated for the past four to six weeks, we need to be organized and ready for that moment when some of the social/physical distancing guidelines are relaxed and our students can recover some semblance of normalcy and routine in their lives,” said Fenex, the director of Campus Recreation. “We expect to be a big part of that.”
Reopening Rec Centers in Maine
Kristie Deschesne, the associate director of Campus Recreation at the University of Maine, said reopening rec centers was top of mind for them as well. Located in Maine, she said they benefited learning from others as the virus arrived there much later than other campuses.
Before full closure, some initial changes included:
- Reducing operation hours to summer/break hours.
- Removing half of the cardio equipment from the floor.
- Suspending the sales of day passes.
- Suspending towel and locker check out.
- Posting signage and more.
“Of course, due to the rapid movement of the virus, we had only been open one day before we decided to close for the duration,” she said. “Still, it gave us time to take care of these items so when we do reopen our patrons will have been informed for quite some time about what they will see and have available for use, and what we ask of them to help protect our community.”
In terms of reopening, Deschesne considered a list of things on top of the changes made prior to full closure:
- Further reduction of operating hours.
- Reduction in staffing levels per service area.
- If/when/how to provide group exercise and group activity opportunities.
- Requiring or recommending face masks for staff and patrons.
- Participant limits in the facility.
- Suspended pool operation.
- Screening of participants before entry.
Prior to this, there were steps they had taken already. “We are implementing new touchless card swipes and credit card machines that don’t require our staff to handle cards, and we will be looking at potentially limiting sales hours and improving our web-based sales operations to decrease the need for in-person sales,” said Deschesne.
Nothing is Concrete about Reopening
Kaila Lavin, the interim director of the Student Recreation Center at California State University, Northridge, said they reassessed weekly. The “Return to the Rec Risk Matrix” created by the founders of Connect2Concepts and CORE Unlimited was extremely helpful during that time.
“It is a great tool for us to look at the details of our operations and assess what we can go back to doing, what we need to discontinue and what we need to modify,” said Lavin. “Of course, much of this will be based on guidelines provided by local and federal government and the CDC, but at least we have a starting point.”
Ensuring a Sense of Security
Fenex believed there would be a heightened sense of personal health and safety, perhaps permanently. As such, he said they developed additional practices for the future that will hopefully give users a sense of security and confidence in the rec center being safe and sanitary.
He shared a list of the already implemented, as well as planned, changes:
- Every supervisor will keep a regularly updated roster of all student employees who will be ready and available to work when approved to reopen. Knowing their availability will help determine what the hours of operation will be.
- UC Riverside had Plexiglas shields installed at all of the rec center service counters, including entrances, equipment checkout, the fitness center, the Competitive Sports office and the Outdoor Excursions shop. They were installed where any face-to-face transactions are conducted.
- The team reevaluated the number and locations of gym wipe dispensers to make more available. In fact, they planned to nearly double the current totals.
- There will be an increase in the frequency of sanitizing activities. Housekeeping and student staff will have additional duties related to wiping down all high touch surfaces and sanitizing fitness equipment regularly.
- Student staff will be stationed at the entrances to the facility with “no-touch” thermometers to take each person’s temperature before they are allowed to enter. Anyone with a fever will be asked to seek medical care and will not be allowed to enter the facility.
- Fenex said they ordered a supply of neck gaiters which will become part of the staff uniform. “I don’t know for how long we’ll require this, but I foresee we’ll do this for at least a few months after we reopen,” he said. “We’ll also make these available to our users — probably as giveaways for the first couple months — and we’ll require them to wear a face covering while they are in our facilities.”
- Exercise equipment layouts were redesigned to spread everything out to a minimum of six feet apart. Fenex said they plan to temporarily annex one of the multi-use courts and use it as additional fitness center space to accommodate physical distancing needs. It gives the center 8,500 additional square feet to work with.
- Current hand scan technology for their access control mechanism will be changed out to a “no-touch” technology to make that function more sanitary.
- The UC Riverside marketing and communications team is developing a communication campaign to reinforce safe behaviors which will be a prominent part of the environment. Messaging will be on all communication screens and throughout the facilities, social media and other channels.
- The purchases listed here will be funded by the salary savings the department has realized from the closure.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to reopening rec centers after the current pandemic. As Fenex said, it’s never too early to start.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Though I understand that a healthy & safe rec centre creates a welcoming environment for patrons – I caution these steps will make rec centres even more intimidating & exclusive for those not currently engaged. How will new patrons feel like they belong? #inclusion