No swimming this summer

Park district announces pool will not open in 2020

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By Maria Maxham

The Park District of Forest Park will not open the pool this summer.

In a May 21 park district meeting, the ins and outs of social distancing, training, disinfecting, staffing and limiting the number of patrons swimming at one time were discussed in detail. But ultimately, all board members decided there was no safe way to open for the 2020 swim season.

Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli said she and Recreation Supervisor Rachell Entler spent many hours over the past weeks discussing all the options. With a background in aquatics, Iovinelli said this decision has been difficult to make.

"If anything will break my heart, this will do it," Iovinelli said.

Opening up during phase three of Pritzker's Reopen Illinois plan would be an impossibility, as only up to 10 people are allowed to gather in one place. So the pool would have to wait until phase four, later in the season.

But even then, state guidelines would prevent the gathering of more than 50 people in one place at one time.

As Entler said during the meeting, 15 of those 50 would be pool staff, which would allow only 35 pool patrons at one time. In that situation, the pool could open for 1.5 to two hours for 35 people, and then close so staff could disinfect everything before opening up again for another group. And repeat.

But in that situation, which might start in July when phase four begins, and assuming perfect weather – no rain days at all – the pool would bring in only 19 percent of the revenues that it brought in last year.

As big an issue as finances is training lifeguards and ensuring their safety. The rigorous program guards go through before working at a pool would be different this year, including changes dictated by the American Red Cross to protect trainees from the COVID-19 virus. Part of the training could be done virtually, but the water portion couldn't begin until the pool was filled.

And even then, training would require more mannequins – each trainee would have her own, a difference from other years when they could share.

Most notably, though, the essential water rescue skills training would not be done in teams of two trainees as it normally is; rather, it would be simulated with one guard and one mannequin at a time.

"They would have to practice the two-person rescue each doing their own part on a separate mannequin," said Entler, a practice that worries her. "We would be training the guards in a way that isn't consistent with the way they're supposed to actually do their jobs."

Add in the difficulty the park district has had obtaining proper PPE – an order for gloves placed weeks ago still hasn't shipped – and the result is a situation that doesn't make anyone comfortable.

In an interview after the meeting, Iovinelli said she and Entler had discussed this for weeks, looking at it from all angles. "Opening the pool is a huge undertaking under normal conditions," said Iovinelli. "But it's my favorite thing in the world to do."

Still, after hours of discussion, it was apparent that this year the pool will stay dry.

"I didn't want to make this decision without knowing for certain that we had thought every piece of this through," said Iovinelli. And despite her sadness, she said she knows it's the right decision.

All board members concurred.

"I agree, sadly," said Roy Sansone, board president. Eric Entler said that mitigating risk is essential. Matt Walsh said that with limiting the pool to seven or eight families at a time, the experience just wouldn't be the same and wouldn't be worth the risk. Cathy McDermott said it was obvious that staff had "vetted this seven ways sideways" and was making the best choice under the circumstances. And John Doss said, "It's out of our control. It's the right decision."

Iovinelli said it was a little like finally ripping off a Band-Aid. And now that the decision has been made, the park district can move forward with other plans.

"For a long time, we kept saying, 'Once we decide on the pool, we can do this or that,'" said Iovinelli. "Now, it's time to stop worrying about what we can't do and start focusing on what we can do."

Plans include summer camp, outdoor exercise classes, and organized outdoor activities for kids, all with proper social distancing in mind.

"Our board is invested in our residents," said Iovinelli. "Anything we can do, we will do."

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