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Woolwich to reopen Elmira splash pad

[File Photo]

Summer arrives this weekend, bringing with it some hot and humid weather, but it will be another few weeks before relief arrives in the form of the opening of the splash pad in Elmira.

In opting to reopen the facility, Woolwich is bucking the trend in most Ontario municipalities, however. But it’s a position adopted by others in the Waterloo Region.

With the province’s phase-two rules allowing recreation facilities such as pools to reopen, Woolwich is looking at July 6 to have the water flowing again. The township will  also allow access to sports fields, and plans  to offer day camps this summer. All of the moves will be subject to new health and safety measures in response to the coronavirus situation.

The reopening plan was  endorsed by councillors meeting June 16.

Most recreation facilities, including the Woolwich Memorial Centre, will remain closed, awaiting  phase three of the provincial government’s reopening strategy.

Despite some reservations, staff wanted to offer some level of service this summer rather than cancelling programs outright, explained recreation director Ann McArthur.

The decision made, the township doesn’t know what to expect in the way of response from the public, with McArthur noting usage will depend on people’s comfort level in returning to programs and facilities.

The range of options is also constrained by staffing numbers, as the department now has just 18 people available – some 110 employees, many of them part-timers such as life guards, remain laid off.

When it reopens, the splash pad will be staffed  to monitor the facility.  A number of changes, including the installation of a fence, limits on numbers and reduced hours will be in effect.

“The pad typically sees significant visitors daily and staff feel it would be impossible to maintain or enforce physical distancing of small children without controlled access. Staff recommend controlled access, a rotation of users limited to 45 minutes each hour to ensure the feature is enjoyed by many.  Staff will clean and sanitize touch points and washrooms regularly,” said McArthur in a report to council.

The provisions will come at a cost. Typical operating costs are $24,000 for a 16-week season, whereas operating the facility for just nine weeks will cost $19,000.

Still, operating the splash pad is more financially viable than the pool, said McArthur.

“We wanted to offer some level of service,” she added of the decision to operate some programs.

Looking at the costs, and taking into account the need for a fence, Coun. Patrick Merlihan asked if staff had looked at making access control permanent, with an  eye on charging for admission.

“It might be a good idea to look at some kind of charge,” added Coun. Larry Shantz.

Such changes aren’t in the works this summer, however.

But the rules will see limitations on the number of users, with a 45-minute time limit, after which staff can clear the facility and clean it.

Changes are also  the order of the day with the townships day camps, offered in Breslau and Elmira.

The programs will be scaled back, both in terms of the number of participants and the range of activities, in an attempt to maintain physical distancing measures.

The decision to offer a modified program was made in consultation with parents, said McArthur, with everyone aware there’s some risk.

“We can’t guarantee no transmission, as we can’t guarantee physical distancing,” she said.

“We are cognizant there are additional risks in providing programs to children however, are attempting to balance risk with community benefit.  As you can imagine physical distancing is more challenging with children.”

Sports fields will be available for practice sessions by month’s end, with regular team use awaiting clearance from the province. Washroom facilities such as those at Bolender Park in Elmira are also set to reopen.

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