Blaine County Recreation District

COVID-19 restrictions pushed construction on the Blaine County Recreation District’s aquatics center in Hailey more than a month behind schedule.

The Blaine County Recreation District board voted on Monday to cancel all summer programs at the Aquatics Center, citing uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure will impact a staff of 28, including lifeguards who hoped to return to the pool for $11-per-hour summer jobs. It will also impact hundreds of kids who use the pool’s programs to learn to swim.

“A lot of kids are going to miss out on a full year of swimming, which is not going to be a safe thing for our community,” BCRD board President Mike Burchmore.

The BCRD Aquatic Center sees some 22,000 visits each summer. Last year, 450 kids enrolled in its learn-to-swim programs. An additional 100 participated in its swim team.

The board’s decision came following an analysis of construction schedules for completion of a years-long $2.5 million renovation that have been set back several weeks due to isolation orders and new construction guidelines. The expansion was expected to allow the BCRD to grow its instructional programing by 50 percent, according to the BCRD.

Until the outbreak of the coronavirus, the facility was scheduled to open on Memorial Day, but that date was then pushed to July. The board decided Monday that the window for pool operations would likely be too short to fit in before the beginning of school on Aug. 17.

BCRD Executive Director Jim Keating provided an update Monday that included challenges that work crews would face finishing the pools, fences and other construction details under ongoing social distancing rules, as well as uncertainties about pool operation protocols.

Those protocols will have to be vetted by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare before going into effect, Keating told the BCRD board. With the complexities of hands-on swim lessons, CPR trainings, locker room gatherings and cleaning practices, the new rules would likely be “a challenge,” he said

 The BCRD board voted to free up a $10,000 stipend to be shared by pool staff as a way to “honor their commitment” to the Aquatics Center and help offset lost incomes due to the closure.

The board also agreed to offer lifeguards an opportunity to work at its Summer Youth camps and Fit Works programs to give them an employment alternative if those programs are allowed to proceed.

BCRD Director of Recreation Jenna Vagias said it’s possible that social distancing rules would lead to an increased demand for summer camp counsellors if the new protocols call for smaller groups of kids. However, Vagias conceded that it is too soon to tell whether there will be summer camps.

“It’s still a moving target,” she said.

Keating said in an interview that for now, the BCRD is working diligently to understand how to best manage planned programs like the summer camp given the need to address social distancing protocols in terms of screening, spacing of participants and other concerns.

“The existing plan is to operate the Summer Youth program for the community,” he said.

Keating said the BCRD plans to finish the Aquatics Center this summer under the new construction guidelines and is working to design the best staffing and operational model for next year.

“The BCRD is 100 percent committed to the BCRD Aquatic Center on behalf of the community,” he said

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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