Reopening Rec Centers: Planning, Implementation and More

reopening rec centers

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Three schools from across the country share what they are up to in terms of planning and implementing for the reopening of their rec centers. While two have already opened, one continues to prepare.

North Dakota State University

Opening on Monday, May 18 after closure due to COVID-19, Jobey Lichtblau, the director of the Wellness Center at North Dakota State University (NDSU), said members are simply happy to have the facility available again.

“The Wellness Center has always had policies, but students and members are especially compliant and appreciative of the policies in place with Phase One,” he shared.

In terms of what other rec directors could learn from Lichtblau when it comes to reopening, he shared three takeaways:

  1. Make sure there is a process and a committee involved to help guide decisions.
  2. Be flexible, because there will be changes along the way you’ll need to adapt to.
  3. Take your time in planning a reopening strategy that works best for your facility and its members, with their health and well-being guiding each decision.

Several examples of NDSU’s safety measures, based on the North Dakota Smart Restart plan, are below:

  • Signs regarding all guidelines, policies, and procedures are posted at each entrance and throughout the facility.
  • Plexiglass has been installed at service desks.
  • Locker rooms and shower facilities have been closed for uses other than bathroom/restroom use.
  • Staff members are required to observe and enforce social distancing policies, as well as make sure members are using the appropriate wipes to clean and sanitize equipment after each use.
  • Group fitness participants arrive no more than 10 minutes early for the class and practice social distancing.

The reality is COVID-19 is a new fact of life and NDSU is doing its best to face it. “No college or university in the nation is any different,” said Lichtblau. “However, we are developing plans to mitigate the risk while providing a healthy place for our members to exercise. Those plans are being guided by best practices and advice from public health professionals.”

University of Arkansas

Everything currently is in draft stage at Arkansas in terms of reopening plans. Jeremy Battjes, the assistant vice-chancellor and executive director of University Recreation (UREC), said they’ve put together overarching plans for reopening dates of June 1, July 1 and August 1. Their top recommendation currently is August 1.

UREC put together a list of what will need to take place for facility re-entry:

  • Cleaning and sanitation of common spaces, equipment, products and supply, protocols both indoor and outdoor, and coordinating with Facilities Management.
  • Establish facility operations that include designating what spaces will be open versus closed depending on the existing level of restrictions in place.
  • Establish a culture of shared responsibility on campus. This includes:
    • User responsibility, like wearing a mask, storage of personal items, touchless entry, physical distancing, etc.
    • UREC responsibility, like cleaning and sanitation training protocols for staff, signage and messaging, staff safety in items like sneeze guards and PPE, etc.
    • Campus partner responsibility, like Facility Management cleaning protocols, HVAC protocols, PPE and supplies, etc.

He also shared a post COVID-19 Excel file that gives a task list for various areas in the department and who is responsible for what. “This document will help form our standard operating procedures and detailed procedures for re-opening and operating spaces and programs,” he said.

A portion of UREC’s Excel file for its reopening plan.

However, he stressed everything is in draft stage and is a continual work in progress.

Texas A&M University

The university’s rec facility reopened on Monday, May 18 as well. Rick Hall, the director of Recreational Sports, said they were excited to reopen. But, there are several guidelines in place.

First, the Rec Center and Outdoor Rental Center are open with limited hours, including a midday closure that allows the staff to clean and disinfect.

Staff are wearing face masks, sneeze guards were installed and hand sanitizer is available for use. No guest passes are being sold, cash is currently not accepted, and physical distancing is enforced via signage and floor markings. Plus, there are regular announcements to remind patrons about social distancing and staff are positioned around the facility.

Other guidelines concerning certain activities are as follows:

  • Patrons are able to work out in the strength and conditioning room by making a reservation through IMLeagues software. Workout spots are limited in order to comply with distancing and safety guidelines, beginning with 50 spots each hour, gradually building up to 100, which is still less than 25% of the capacity of the room.
  • The indoor climbing facility and bouldering wall is available for climbing; members need to reserve their climbing time on IMLeagues as spaces are limited in order to comply with distancing and safety guidelines.
  • Two lanes are available for walking and running/jogging on the indoor track, while two lanes will remain closed; proper physical distancing will be required.
  • Cardiovascular equipment is available for use; however, several pieces have been marked as unavailable due to distancing guidelines.
  • Court activities that are permitted include singles badminton, singles pickleball, and solo racquetball, squash and handball. Only one individual is allowed in each racquetball court at a time. Basketball, volleyball and soccer are currently not permitted.
  • The Texas A&M community is able to rent outdoor equipment from the Outdoor Adventures Rental Center.
  • Recreational Sports is continuing to offer virtual Group RecXercise classes and several virtual, interactive intramural sports.
  • Swimming will require reservations and physical distancing guidelines will be adhered to once the pools become available

In all of this, Hall said the biggest lesson learned has been that of patience. “We and our members could not wait to return to the rec, reunite with friends and colleagues, and participate in all we offer,” he said. “We have learned we should make the most out of every day and what there is to offer in terms of activities, facilities and opportunities because that can change without our permission.”

And while every rec center is different, Hall gave some of his top takeaways from this time in hopes other directors can learn from his experiences:

  • Be the leader. “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you do have to be a leader,” he said. “Increase your communication with your team, industry colleagues, and university leadership, and gather input from every direction and every staff member — they are a big part of the solution. This may be exhausting, and could slow down the process, but your end result is so much better. You will not only have a better decision, but you also have champions and buy-in from those that matter.”
  • Keep your own supervisor in the loop and garner support from university administration. But he said to not go beyond what they are willing to support.
  • Involve your university’s Health and Safety office. “Be sure they endorse and support your plan,” he said.
  • Use benchmarking and lean on your peers around the state and the nation.
  • Don’t forget your purpose and mission, and those you serve in making those decisions. “As rec sports professionals we are held to a high standard to do our very best in order to help keep our students safe and healthy,” said Hall.
  • Some of your staff will be worried about opening and others will have little or no fear of the process. Be sure to listen to all but be prepared to make the final decision.
  • “In the end, the decision is yours,” he said. “Use all of your experience, the input you received and make decisions that will best serve your campus.”
Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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