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Recreation department looks to recoup COVID cash as new normal descends

The Nelson Mixed Slopitch League is just one of the organized sports in the RDCK that has been forced to shut down due to COVID-19 pandemic. — The Nelson Daily photo

The cash crunch coming from the cutting of services and programs within the recreational realm of Nelson due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be overcome, says the regional district’s general manager of Community Services.

Joe Chirico delivered his report to the Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors late last month detailing a plan that confirms the financial expectation of recreation and park services will balance at the end of the fiscal year, despite a $400,000 drop in revenue during the first six weeks of the pandemic-inspired facility shutdown region wide.

A motion was made by the board to reallocate recreation funding to deliver the safest most cost effective programming, including a Park Ambassador program, to balance the 2020 recreation service budgets.

In consultation with RDCK recreation commissions, Chirico felt the 2020 recreation service levels could be altered to give people an eventual recreational outlet in the region’s many facilities — both indoor and outdoor.

Currently, the regional district is in phase two of its re-opening framework, with an expanded number of outdoor facilities open for modified casual use. Indoor facilities are still closed with limited outdoor programming.

There are no organized sports underway in the regional district — youth soccer, adult slo-pitch, youth baseball, etc. — said Chirico.

“No organized sport group has started, although I am aware of a couple that are just finishing their Return to Sport plans and are awaiting approval,” he said. “It is important to note that this is based upon a sport organization putting control measures in place like physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

With the region and the province mired in phase two of the return to near normal, there is no confirmation on when phase three will be instituted.

“The phase timing is up to Public Health not local governments,” said Chirico. “All indications are that we will be required to follow present public health orders and recommendations for months to come.”

The new normal projected opening date for the NDCC is unknown/unlikely, with programming to be designed to limit physical contact. The staff report matrix said there would be a 50 per cent drop in revenue, and that competitive hockey was unlikely.

The aquatic centre’s opening is also unknown, and programming would need to be designed to limit physical distancing during peak periods. It was expected to see a 60 to 75 per cent decrease in participation.

The fitness centre will not open unless some equipment can be moved or removed to meet social distancing requirements, the report stated. Programming for the centre has the most potential to be “very similar to pre COVID-19 if space can be found.”

The lobby would also undergo changes and have to be modified — an alternative method of entry and exit would have to be defined — and the meeting rooms will not be used for meetings and will most likely be turned into office space.

“Some space will be reallocated but not suitable for rentals. One hundred per cent loss of revenue,” the report matrix predicted.

Gyro Park outdoor pool opening is also unknown, but the report noted it had more potential as the facility was “outdoors in a large park,” but programming would be designed to limit physical distancing. There would be an expected 50 per cent decrease in

participation.

Although the regional district has submitted a municipal recreation and park guideline to the BCRPA to open services and get the communities active outdoors now, Chirico said the indoor recreation facility discussion was “some weeks away.”

Chirico explained that the RDCK Community Services leadership team has divided the programming team into four strategic areas: aquatics, fitness, recreation (camps) and parks to develop programs and plan for facility usage in the future.

“As per provincial direction to the BCRPA, the RDCK will be concentrating on outdoor recreational opportunities first,” he said.

Park Ambassador Program

As part of the planning to support public use of parks and open spaces, the board accepted a staff proposal to create a Park Ambassador Program. The intent of the program is to:

  • to educate the public on safe use of our park spaces as per the direction of the PHA;
  • to help manage the usage of the park open spaces as per PHA guidelines;
  • to help manage areas like pickle ball, tennis and sports fields as per operational guidelines of sport governing bodies (PSO) to ensure safe operations as per PHA guidelines;
  • to fund the program within present recreation budgets; and
  • to rehire some qualified laid off employees.

Most of Community Services has been laid off which is over 210 employees. Most are part time but many have worked and served the public for many years.

The bottom line

The fiscal impact of COVID-19 to date is that RDCK recreation services have lost between $380,000 to $400,000 in revenue between March 17 and April 30, noted Chirico in his report to the board.

However, the department is projected to save $208,000 in expenses in the same time frame.

“Projections indicate that by keeping our present course of action (closed indoor facilities) that all services will have recovered their net losses by the end of June,” Chirico stated in his report.

He said the services would be able to meet the 2020 financial plan — and result in a balanced budget — as long as several points are achieved:

  • keep indoor recreation operations closed until Aug. 18;
  • re-allocate funding from services towards new outdoor initiatives delivered through a Parks Ambassadors Program;
  • provide indoor fitness programs utilizing closed indoor spaces provided that programs can be done safely and economically;
  • provide a public benefit and financial update at each RDCK board meeting; and
  • in July additional recommendations will be forthcoming.

The present financial plans will not support the same operating hours, program

availability and other services.

— Source: RDCK Community Services

Each municipal government has to determine when they can open a facility, noted Chirico.

“Through the British Columbia Parks and Recreation Association, Recreation Facilities BC, Municipal Insurance Association of BC and viaSport most facilities can be opened in the right conditions,” he said.

Because people are practising social distancing, hand washing and following all Public Health recommendations, all regional district parks and park amenities are open.

But it’s not a done deal.

“The pandemic is not over and if we continue the good practices of following public health recommendations hopefully we will be able to keep our parks open,” Chirico explained.


A look ahead

The next phase will entail a “tremendous” amount of planning, Chirico predicted.

“Municipal recreation services are expected to set the example of providing safe recreation experiences,” he said.

“Each sport group is responsible for their implementing their own plan that meets the requirements of their provincial sport organization and meets the COVID exposure plans of municipal facilities.”

Heading toward phase three involves further expansion of the opening of the number of outdoor facilities for modified casual use and limited programming, with a limited number of large indoor spaces open for modified programming.

But as far as the arena, swimming pool and fitness centre at the Nelson and District Community Complex opening this fall, Chirico could not say for sure.

“There is still a lot of work to be done here. Sport groups will have to go through a similar but more rigorous process than outdoor sports,” he said.

As per Public Health outdoor is just safer than indoor, Chirico explained.

“There will be no casual use of facilities. Instead, individuals may have to book the time to use the pool, arena or fitness centre as the regional district will need to manage use of the indoor facilities very rigorously to maintain physical distancing between patrons.”

At the moment no event can have more than 50 people.

The public health restrictions will translate into decreased usage which will impact the revenue that can be generated per hour at places like NDCC.

“This will make the community centres more expensive to operate per hour as the overhead of large indoor facilities is high,” Chirico said.  

“The RDCK is taking a phased approach that will see programs, services and facilities start to reopen once we are clear that: we can protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and residents; the public demand is there; and we’ve determined the fiscal implications of any change.”

The new normal

Although the province’s Dr. Henry says “this is for now, not forever,” until Public Health and the Province of British Columbia deem it is safe to lift all public health orders and restrictions, recreation services in the regional district will not return to pre March 16 levels, Chirico pointed out.

“I am looking forward to the day that we return to just opening the doors of our community complexes to everyone who wants to swim, workout or skate,” he said.

Although the recreation services will be different from what has been delivered traditionally, Chirico believed the Community Services team would deliver new programming that would meet all of the board’s benefits of recreation.

References:

https://www.bcrpa.bc.ca/COVIDGuideline

https://www.viasport.ca/sport-specific-guidelines

https://bcsoccer.net/files/MemberService/ReturnToPlay/June_2_2020_BC_Soccer_Return_to_Play_Phase_1_Technical_Resources_Canada_Soccer_Approved.pdf

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer/current-health-topics/COVID-19-novel-coronavirus

https://www.worksafebc.com/en/about-us/COVID-19-updates/COVID-19-returning-safe-operation/parks

https://www.worksafebc.com/en/about-us/COVID-19-updates/COVID-19-returning-safe-operation/sports-recreation

— Source: RDCK Community Services

Note: It is important to note that beyond planning and working to reopen, RDCK staff has been completing all required yearly shutdown maintenance and numerous capital projects.

In Nelson this means replacing the waterslide stair landing, adding new doors and replacing all arena lighting with new LED fixtures plus much more, Chirico concluded.