By Josephine May

The Hiawatha Aquatic Park will remain closed this summer due to COVID concerns, following a vote by the Hiawatha City Commission Monday night.

The decision was made at a highly-anticipated meeting of the Hiawatha City Commission Monday night to formally close the pool for the entire summer and ban organized baseball games at city-owned fields.

The call came down after a tentative schedule to re-open summer activities was released at the last city meeting, which was then derailed by a delay in the state’s re-opening plan, as well as summer activity guidelines from the CDC and the Kansas Parks and Recreation Association.

City Parks and Recreation Director Stacy Jasper asked the commission for a clear picture and decision Monday night, in order for her to communicate to the community what this summer will look like. She said plans were already underway for many recreation teams and they needed to know what the city’s stance was.

The daunting sanitization regimen required for pools, as well as the limited hours and reservation-only openings meant that the city would be required to hire more staff for a fraction of the hours, were the determining factors in the city’s decision to close the aquatic park for the year. Commissioners Toni Hull and Becky Shamburg both stated their remorse in making the decision, but felt that the cost and effort, as well as the risk, were not worth the limited access the city would have to the facilities.

Shamburg, who serves as director of Brown County Special Education, said she is a huge advocate of athletics and recreation, but that as an educator, she is concerned about keeping virus risks low over the summer in an effort to get back to school by August.

“I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” she said.

The ruling on baseball games came from a similar place. The cleaning, as well as the guidelines that would need to be imposed for practices and games came into play, as well as the risk causing a delay to school in August and the desire to come to a final decision to give closure one way or another were at the heart of the commission’s decision. With the governor’s Phase 1.5 came a delay in gathering-size increases, which could throw off the ability to hold practices and games.

All parks, playgrounds, shelters, batting cages and ball fields will be open to the public once the state reaches Phase 2 — which is currently set for June 1 unless otherwise pushed back by the state. Teams will be allowed to practice at city facilities once that hallmark comes, but Hiawatha Parks and Rec will not schedule practices, and signs will go up in all city parks stating to “use at your own risk,” as facilities will not be sanitized against COVID-19. The Fisher Center will also be open at Phase 2. Bathrooms at any city facility will remain closed until the state reaches Phase 4, not set to occur until June 29 if everything goes as planned.

Jasper clarified after the meeting on a post on the Hiawatha Parks and Recreation Facebook page that the commission’s decision does not mean that local teams must forfeit their seasons, as they can still practice and attend away games if they so choose, but reiterating that the city will not be responsible for sanitizing at scheduled practice times, just during normal work hours.

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