New Westminster developing plans to reopen parks and rec facilities

Lessons learned from the summer opening of Moody Park Outdoor Pool are proving to be useful as the city plans for the reopening of community facilities in the fall.

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said his department’s attention is currently focused on the resumption of services in local facilities, with a gradual restart beginning in September and continuing into early October. The city is working to reopen facilities and restore services in a manner that’s consistent with public health orders related to COVID-19 and adheres to B.C.’s Restart Plan, WorkSafeBC and industry-specific guidelines.

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“We are doing everything that we can as a parks and recreation department to ensure that our facilities are, first and foremost, safe for the public to return to and safe for our staff to work in, and still remain a welcoming and inviting environment,” he said. “We really are wanting to encourage the public to come back, and we certainly ask for their patience when they begin to re-engage with us and go through this exercise together about what does indoor recreation begin to look and feel like in an area where we are still trying to promote physical distancing and safe health practices.”

While things won’t look dramatically different in city facilities, Gibson said visitors will notice that some changes have been made since they closed their doors in March.

“Every city facility has had Plexiglas put in those high-contact locations. That’s probably been the biggest change that people will see when they come to that reception counter,” he said. “Within the facilities themselves, they can probably expect to see some increased signage that helps in terms of directions people should be moving, and reminders about distancing and those sorts of things.”

Since reopening in July, Moody Park Outdoor Pool has required people to make reservations to access the pool.

Gibson said there’s been a “high demand” for access to the pool, which has proven to be a “great pilot” for understanding the importance of simplicity with the reservation system.

“Everything is a work in process,” he said. “As we learn, we continue to evolve and adapt our process to make it, most importantly, easy and simple for the public. Access is going to be limited in the first place because we just can’t accommodate as many people; we want to make the process for getting that access as straightforward as we can.”

Gibson said the city will have more precise dates about the reopening of parks and recreation facilities, including information registering for services, in the next couple of weeks. Details will be included in the fall Active Living brochure.

The biggest change the public can expect for the fall programming is the drop-in programs won’t be an option anymore, Gibson said.

“Everything is going to be like we are doing at the outdoor pool, where you effectively reserve or register in advance to showing up at the door,” he said. “That ensures that we can manage the number of people that are in our facilities and, secondly, gives people some reassurance that they are actually going to be able to get in on the day and time when it arrives.”

Gibson said the city has tried to keep the public apprised about when services will be coming back online. Although there hasn’t been a real push from the public for those services to resume, he expects that will soon change.

“We are largely consistent with most other municipalities in the Lower Mainland as well, in terms of how they are reintroducing their services,” he said. “I can’t say it’s been a super high demand, but I do expect, that once this nice summer weather that we have begins to fade, the interest will shift indoors very quickly – and we will be ready within the public health and safety guidelines to be operational at that time.”

After closing civic facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the city stopped scheduling its 601 auxiliary employees in April.

Gibson said the city is slowly bringing auxiliary employees back to work and is determining who is still available to work. Because of COVID-19 safety measures that have been implemented, he said there is a fair amount of training and orientation that’s required as part of their return to work.

“We need to make sure they are all trained up and ready for that,” he said. “That’s another part of the reason why the reopening has been going slowly is it’s been a little bit more than just opening the doors.  We need to make sure our staff are ready to do their jobs and the facilities have been prepped with all those barriers and protection measures to make sure the public can feel comfortable returning to our programs as well.”

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