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Across northern Illinois, park districts looking at holding limited in-person programs in Phase 3 re-opening

Recreational programming at area park districts is about to look a little different than past years as Illinois remains on track to move on to its recovery phase in slowly re-opening the state.

Rich Zielke, executive director for Oswegoland Park District, said a lot of park districts – his included – have been reaching out to one another and trying not to reinvent the wheel in re-formatting some of their traditional program offerings for the summer with the hope of the state going into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan. He said staff has already started to get creative in modifying programs per state guidelines.

“It may not be a traditional t-ball league of 9, 10, 11, 12 players [per team on the same field], but it may be 3 on 3 or 4 on 4,” with the same concept possibly applying for soccer camps as well, Zielke said.

When it comes to youth sports, what is being recommended is no handshakes at the beginning or at the end of practices, participants bringing their own source of water, to not allow walk-ins or pick-up games, and to maintain social distancing and keep teams or groups limited to 10 people at a time, according to documents from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

It is also suggested for indoor facilities to allow a maximum 50% capacity, coaches to keep a record of those coming in and out of facilities, monitor symptoms of program participants and to take temperatures of non-program visitors if it’s practical, per state agency guidelines.

Jaime Ijams, recreation director for Fox Valley Park District, said some changes to fitness programming offered by the district include having outdoor one-on-one personal training and limiting outdoor classes to nine participants and one instructor. She said the district typically offers about 400 of those types of classes per month.

“We think we could probably accommodate about 100 per month,” Ijams said.

State recommendations also include day camp coordinators displaying entry signage outlining face covering requirements, social distancing guidelines, and cleaning protocols, in multiple languages as needed. Social distancing of 6 feet or more should be maintained outdoors as well as indoors, if it’s unsafe for children to be outside, and any activities that do not allow for that should be suspended, according to the state recommendations.

Along with implementing increased sanitation protocols, Ijams said, the district also is working out details about new curbside pick-up procedures for campers, which will involve a digital sign in and out through a smartphone app.

Ijams also said the district was working on signage to limit tennis courts to singles play only and not doubles, despite state guidelines not requiring those types of adjustments.

In the meantime, Ijams said, the park district has created a whole lineup of new virtual programming available to the public. She said the park district also was in the process of launching remote video gaming tournaments and other such programs include dance programs, drama, other performing arts and early childhood classes.

“It’s been exciting to see what our staff can come up with new virtual route,” Ijams said.

Tim Evans, parks and recreation director for United City of Yorkville, said his department also is hopeful for a mid-June start date for limited in-person programs. In the meantime, he said, his department has seen success with virtual programming including a recent Zoom daddy-daughter dance and drive-in movie events, with location and film licenses to be determined.

The bottom line, though, is a lot of program details will depend on what the official guidelines are from the state once things start to actually re-open, Evans said. The department is still in a bit of a holding pattern until the state is into the next re-opening plan phase, he said.

“it’s going to take time to go back to teachers and determine what’s the proper thing here,” Evans said.

From a financial standpoint, St. Charles Park District officials are projecting a more than $1 million operating deficit because of COVID-19 pandemic related factors, including facilities remaining closed to the public for most of this month.

With park districts keeping an eye on the recovery phase soon approaching, Zielke said, he wouldn’t anticipate those limited in-person programs being available for public participation until June 15 at the earliest – as is the case with other surrounding area park districts as well.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, but you never know,” Zielke said.

However, the recovery phase of the Restore Illinois plan does not include guidelines for public swimming pools.

Zielke wrote in a Thursday, May 28 email the Illinois Department of Public Health has not provided any direction on how, or if, districts can safely operate aquatic facilities this summer.

Zielke wrote the park district’s Civic Center and Winrock pools will not open as scheduled for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wrote typical pre-season pool preparations and staff trainings have been suspended until further notice as well.

Zielke wrote the district is looking at the feasibility of providing a shortened pool season while keeping the safety of patrons and staff in mind. He wrote he appreciates the public’s patience and understands it may be disappointing to hear the news regardless.

“Once the Illinois Department of Public Health issues guidelines, the district will be equipped to make a final decision in regards to the operations of Civic Center and Winrock pools,” Zielke wrote.

The update comes after the Fox Valley Park District previously announced its Splash Country Water Park and Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center will be closed for the entire swimming season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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