Pools reopen amid pandemic challenges

COVID-19 delays projects, limits pool capacities

Jessica Gibbs
jgibbs@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/15/20

On July 10, outdoor swimming pool H2O’Brien in Parker was teeming with swimmers. Parents held up infants bobbing in the water, children stood under the dump bucket, squealing with glee as water …

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Pools reopen amid pandemic challenges

COVID-19 delays projects, limits pool capacities

Posted

On July 10, outdoor swimming pool H2O’Brien in Parker was teeming with swimmers.

Parents held up infants bobbing in the water, children stood under the dump bucket, squealing with glee as water crashed around them, and lifeguards walked the pool perimeter keeping a close eye on the scene.

For Tiler Paliga, heading to the pool was a fun and safe way to keep her 2-year-old son Will entertained, she said.

The Parker woman said her family is still avoiding trips to the store or going out during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she appreciated the capacity limits at H2O’Brien pool. She felt she could keep her distance from others while enjoying the outdoors, she said.

“It makes you feel like you have a little bit of normalcy for the summer. I just think it’s important for the kids,” she said.

Parker’s Aquatic Supervisor Brian Gentilini said the pool’s first session reached its COVID capacity of 250 people that morning. Capacity in a normal season would be 521 people, and the pool might get 400 visitors on a day like that in any other season.

“This is what a packed house looks like under the variance,” he said, referring to a variance Douglas County received allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people.

The scene in Parker was a far cry from what Janice Weed feared could come to pass this year.

In May, the aquatics supervisor for the Town of Castle Rock was waiting on guidance from local and state health departments to decide if and how she could open swimming pools during the pandemic.

Now, area pools are up and running, albeit with numerous changes in place, she said.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment released new pool guidance in June, allowing facilities to open at 50% capacity or 50 people, and some local communities have received variances that loosen restrictions further.

Pool operators in the Denver metro area described taking many of the same precautions — such as requiring that people wear masks when entering and exiting the facility but not while in the pool. Or, placing markings on the concrete to guide people in staying six feet apart.

Some pools have cleared decks and are asking people to bring their own furniture while others are spacing seating apart, prohibiting guests from moving the furniture and working it into staff’s cleaning routines.

Most pools are holding a series of daily sessions that families can attend, either on a first-come first-serve basis or by reservation. In between sessions, staff deep clean and disinfect the grounds.

Weed said community members have been good at distancing themselves so far, and most sessions are reaching capacity.

Englewood’s Senior Aquatics Facility Supervisor Brad Anderson said the same is true there.

The city’s Pirates Cove waterpark opened June 19 at a capacity of 150 people in a session, although capacity jumped to 250 by July. Sessions require a reservation.

“We are about filling up every single one of our sessions. Pirate’s Cove has been very popular, so that’s a good thing,” Anderson said.

Anderson said they put up signage throughout the facilities reminding people of social distancing and air reminders on the public announcement system.

In preparation for reopening, Anderson said getting enough cleaning supplies was one of the more challenging aspects. Disinfectant is not readily available, he said.

Supplies needs to be ordered in advance and the city had to order brands of supplies it wouldn’t usually. Anderson said he was not sure of the exact budget impact, but that “it was a significant cost that we had to come up with for the disinfectant.”

“And we’re not done with it yet,” he said. “We’re in that learning phase right now where now that we’ve been open for three weeks, we’re starting to see that supplies dwindle a bit.”

Anderson said he is glad to see people at the city’s pools — the recreation center’s indoor pool is open for fitness and lap swimming — and to have employees back on the job.

“It’s nice from the kid standpoint, that they’re able to have a summer job, and it also feels good to be able to offer a swimming pool to our community,” he said.

Social distancing was not the only hurdle for local facilities. For some area pools, renovation or construction projects took a blow from the pandemic as well.

The Town of Parker launched a $2.8 million renovation of H2O’Brien in 2019. Renovations included replacing the play structure and adding two 182-foot water slides. The project was supposed to wrap up in time to open H2O’Brien by Memorial Day.

Instead, the pool opened July 6. Gentilini, Parker’s aquatics supervisor, said the “biggest hit” to the renovation project’s schedule was shipping delays.

New tables got ordered in February but didn’t arrive until early June. The Texas plant that made the pool’s new shades shut down during COVID. Those arrived days before opening. New concrete wasn’t poured until mid-June, and the pool’s pump and motor came from Italy.

“We barely got that before Italy shut down,” he said. “In every way possible it delayed. Whether it be subcontractors not being able to bring their full crews to the site, or mostly what it was, was shipping. But you name it, it affected it somehow.”

Parker’s Director of Parks and Recreation Mary Colton said the project came in on budget, and the town’s team worked passionately to get it done, but for a time the town did not know if the pool would open for the 2020 summer season.

“It’s been quite the challenge to determine our approach to reopening,” Colton said. “We took a lot of time in really planning and evaluating whether or not it would be feasible to open the pool at all this year.”

South Suburban Parks and Recreation also launched major pool construction projects before COVID-19 hit.

The department decided to reconstruct three of its pools — Franklin, Harlow and Holly — after a pool audit in 2017.

Like Parker, South Suburban planned to complete its pool projects by Memorial Day. Then the pandemic limited the size of construction crews that could work at once and the ability to get materials, Assistant Director of Recreation Kelsey Whisler said.

“Factories were shutting down entirely,” she said.

The pools are now slowly opening up.

South Suburban’s Cook Creek pool located in Douglas County was the first to reopen in early June. Harlow opened July 3. Franklin and Holly were slated to open in the near future as well, Whisler said.

While some pools are maxing out pandemic capacities, South Suburban is staying cautious, Whisler said.

Cook Creek allows a capacity of 600 people in a normal season. South Suburban is keeping capacity to 200 on a first-come, first-serve basis for now, although a Douglas County variance allows 250 people.

“Right now, we feel that 200 is at our comfort level,” Whisler said.

Arapahoe County’s variance allows outdoor pools to reopen at 50% capacity, she said, so South Suburban will reopen pools there by reservation. Those are Franklin, Harlow and Holly.

Harlow opened at a capacity of 40 people and South Suburban will raise that to 60 soon, Whisler said. The pool’s capacity without a pandemic would be 160. Whisler said the department did not feel it could gauge how reopening would work until people were in the facility.

Still, she’s glad to see swimmers back at the pool.

“It’s really exciting. Safety, being in parks and recreation, is always a top priority. So that’s at the forefront of our mind,” she said. “But we also want to make sure people have a fun, enjoyable experience too.”

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