With guidlines relaxing around the province, the City of Merritt is hard at work creating the recreation restart plan.

Recreation and Facilities Manager Sky McKeown presented to council on Tuesday where his staff are at in terms of reopening of sport and facilities.

“User groups are expected to have plans outlining safe practices and reduced transmission of COVID-19,” said McKeown.

Currently, city staff are working on a plan to reopen a few of the local recreational facilities. McKeown assured council that plenty of safety measures will be taken before, and while, facilities reopen.

“Cleaning and sanitation schedules, along with proper signage, with educational information is being created…it’s our hope that some of these facilities will be open at the beginning of June.”

Most of the facilities McKeown makes reference to to open that early are outdoors: the outdoors sports box, playgrounds, and park bathrooms are the priority.

McKeown also stressed that his staff is making sure that the workers at recreation facilities are also kept safe. Additional training and equipment will be necessary in many occasions.

“Some of these safety measures and guidelines we’re hearing were literally just released today, and will be made public shortly. If anyone, or any organization needs clarity on anything or rec department might currently be working on, they can call me directly at city hall.”

The B.C./Yukon chapter of the Lifesaving Society is what McKeown and his team look to for guidelines for safe reopening.

The Society recently released new guidelines, giving some sort of direction on when recreation can resume.

“Staff is treating our City of Merritt Aquatic Plan reopening based off those guidelines,” said McKeown.

City staff also just received on Tuesday the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association’s (BCRPA) and Recreation Facilities of British Columbia’s (RFABC) guidelines for a safe reopening, just in time for Tuesday’s council meeting.

In terms of the sporting organizations throughout town, each organization has been instructed to follow the guidelines laid out by their own provincial guidelines.

Councillor Kurt Christopherson inquired about the reopening of the pool.

McKeown said there are certain phases that his staff will work through.

“As we work our way through the guidelines that we’ve gotten from the Lifesaving Society, they cover a phase zero to phase four…with phase zero being the closed facility, which we’re at right now, in terms of working on opening. Phase four would be the pandemic is over, and COVID-19 is under control.”

Phase one would consist of a controlled access, strict supervision, showering before and after, reduced bather loads, ensuring physical distancing, and disinfection methods. Proper PPA would be available for all staff and patrons, while high risk participants would be prohibited.

No hot tubs, saunas, or steam rooms would reopen in this phase.

Phase one could also include the pool only being open for aquatic sports training recognized as being of national interest, as well as lifeguard training.

McKeown said once phase one occurs, and lifeguards are retrained, phase two would begin fairly quickly.

Phase two would also have strict precautions, including a higher coach to student ratio, though swimming lessons and regular training sessions would be alllowed to return: as long as they don’t require physical manipulation by the instructor.

Supervised lane swimming would once again be allowed, as would aquatic sports.

Aquatic fitness classes would also return, with instructors being out of the water while still being able to give proper instruction.

“There’s a lot of spokes to the wheels,” said McKeown.

He added that people have been phoning to see when rec facilities will be opening: specifically, plenty of calls asking when the gym at the aquatic centre will be reopening.

“We’ve looked at the regulations and the guidelines that are being sent down, and realistically, if our gym was to open, we would be opening to three our four patrons at a time. That calculation is based on the recommendations. The reality of that number is basically that there would have to be a system of booked gym times, to ensure patrons have access when they arrive, along with strict time limits for use. It’s not ideal, but nothing really is these days.”

McKeown added that the reality of loss of revenue would have to be analyzed in what the rules will be.

“There’s a substantial difference between subsidizing something by twenty percent, to something like seventy or eighty percent.”

He said it is his, and his staff’s number one priority to safely get recreational facilities open, and once again live happier and healthier lives in the community: getting back to some sort of new normal.