After investing about $120,000 in a new splash pad and other upgrades, Windber pool officials were ready for a big grand opening for Memorial Day weekend.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, leaving at Windber Recreation Park and other municipal facilities across the region in holding patterns.
“It has been a huge disappointment, obviously, with all that’s going on in the world, that we can’t be open,” Windber Recreation Director Matt Grohal said. “We are moving forward in anticipation that the pool and the new splash pad that is completed will be ready for the 2020 season at some point.”
Crews are also preparing pools and parks for the summer season at Portage, Cresson, Ebensburg, Nanty Glo, Patton and Hastings, while cautiously watching for new guidelines from state and federal agencies.
“At Windber Area Municipal Authority, we are very optimistic that sooner, rather than later, we are going to get the green light,” Grohal said. “We are doing everything we can to make sure it’s safe for our patrons and our staff.”
Other pool operators were also treading water while keeping their eyes on state leaders.
“Like the rest of the swimming pools in the area, we are in limbo,” said Perry Scarton, vice president of the Cresson Lions Park Association. “We are going to get it ready. We are doing our regular spring cleaning and maintenance. It’s a slower process because we know we won’t be opening on Memorial Day.”
Scarton said a delayed opening is just one issue facing the Cresson Lions Club, which owns the pool. Several fundraisers were canceled during the stay-at-home social distancing. Entrance fees, season tickets and concessions are never enough to support the pool operation.
“I doubt there’s a pool in the area that breaks even,” Scarton said.
The longer the COVID-19 situation limits the size of gatherings, the more difficult it will be to justify opening, he said. The summer pool season ends in mid-August because most lifeguards want to start fall sports or other back-to-school activities.
“You have to decide if it’s financially prudent to open for a month,” he said. “It is going to be a tough one this year.”
Ebensburg Recreation Director Dirk Johnson said he let his lifeguards know they were free to look for other jobs in case the season fizzles.
“As of right now, we are going to prepare to get the pool open as if we will be open at some point,” Johnson said, adding that getting pools ready for the summer keeps equipment in working order.
“It’s much better to clean it and have it function as a pool to make sure it all runs properly,” he said.
The limit on group size has led Portage Area Joint Recreation Commission to halt pavilion rentals in Crichton-McCormick Park, board member Linda Miko said.
Even if restrictions on group sizes are eased, she isn’t sure the commission will be able to open newly constructed restrooms in the park because of disinfection guidelines. Miko said the Pennsylvania Recreation and Parks Society recommends sanitizing restrooms every two hours.
“We can’t possibly do that,” she said, explaining the park doesn’t have enough staff to cover the restrooms up to 16 hours a day.
Officially the park’s basketball courts and playground are closed, but it is difficult to monitor, Miko admits.
“The (closed) signs didn’t make it until the next morning,” she said. “We don’t have anyone to tackle people who try to use them.”
Nanty Glo Municipal Authority President Shawn McMullen said he’s watching the state and federal agencies for guidance while preparing the borough’s pool for a potential season.
“It’s an ongoing decision at this point,” McMullen said. “We are trying to see what some of the other pools are doing and trying to follow the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Department of Health guidelines. We’ll be reaching out to them.”
At Patton Recreation Park, workers are moving forward with summer plans, borough staffer Amanda Farrell said.
“As soon as the governor tells us, we are ready,” she said.
Hastings Borough has also begun preparing for the season, Councilwoman Melanie Zearfoss said.
“Hopefully, we’ll know soon,” Zearfoss said. “I don’t know what the kids in this town will do this summer if we don’t open the park and pool.”