Brainerd Family YMCA reopens with limited capacity

Open this week are the weight room, wellness center, lobby, towel service for those on a subscription, outdoor basketball, walking track and locker rooms. Each area will have a specific capacity based on 25% of maximum room occupancy.

Lars Ronnevik carries weights to a machine while working out Wednesday, June 10, at the Brainerd YMCA. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

It felt like a long time coming. But for Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle, it actually happened sooner than expected.

“We’ve been scrambling. The notice was so short — you know, last Friday — that we would be able to open, so it was very unexpected. We’ve been scrambling all weekend and Tuesday and Monday to get everything restaged and put back together,” Riffle said.

The Christian-based nonprofit for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility opened its doors Wednesday, June 10, as a fitness center for the first time since March 17.

“A number of Ys have been opening for over a month or so now, and what we’re seeing is about 25% of the normal traffic flow, and that’s actually what we’re seeing here as well,” Riffle said of YMCAs nationwide and the Brainerd location on Oak Street.

Minnesota moved to Phase III of the state’s Stay Safe Minnesota reopening plan during the coronavirus pandemic after entering into Phase II at the start of June. Gyms and other exercise facilities statewide were permitted to reopen Wednesday with certain limitations.


Member Steve Quinn works out in the gym on weight machines moved into that area for the reopening Wednesday, June 10, at the Brainerd Family YMCA. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“There are people venturing in. Some people are working out, some people are just curious to see what changes we’ve made to adhere to the guidelines and mandates. But universally, across the board, people are glad to be out and have the opportunity to come back,” he said.

The Brainerd Family YMCA reopened its doors to members at 7 a.m. Wednesday with a phased-in approach, too. Changes were made to the facility designed to improve safety, including cleaning, social distancing and cleaning protocols.

“This week, we have only opened our wellness, cardio, strength areas. The pool is not open yet, and we’re only doing virtual group fitness classes like we’ve been doing throughout. Next week, we’re going to open the pool,” Riffle said, for Y members ages 13 and older.

Open this week are the weight room, wellness centers (including a new one on the west side of the gym), lobby, towel service for those on a subscription (no daily rentals), outdoor basketball, walking track and locker rooms. Each area will have a specific capacity based on 25% of maximum room occupancy.

“Our Studio One only has a capacity of 12 people, so we’re going to do a reservation system, so people will be able to get in and reserve one of those 12 spots,” Riffle said of the group fitness classes starting Monday. “The class size is going to be much smaller than it used to be.”

The staff has even marked out 6-by-12-foot grids with tape in those studios, so its members in group fitness classes will have a very defined space while working out at the Brainerd Family YMCA.


Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle Wednesday, June 10, talks about how exercise machines were moved into a section of the gymnasium to help create enough distance between the machines to follow guidelines for reopening. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“The pools have even more guidelines and mandates than the building,” Riffle said of the lap pool that opens Monday. “It’s limited to one person per lap lane, and the 25% in the pool doesn’t include the square footage of the water. It’s on the deck, so that is even more restrictive.”

Both members and staff will be asked to do a wellness self-assessment before entering the facility. Those with COVID-19 symptoms will be asked to stay home.

“We’re asking them a series of questions ranging from, ‘Have you or anyone in your household been exposed, you know, in a positive test in the last 14 days? Do you have a fever or chills or any of the other symptoms?’” Riffle said.

Gyms and other exercise facilities in Minnesota were permitted to open Wednesday up to 25% of their capacity but may not exceed 250 people indoors or outdoors. For the Brainerd Family YMCA facility as a whole, that equates to 212 people, according to Riffle.

“We’ve created a traffic flow pattern, so you come in one door, you walk down one side of the hall. We’ve put floor stickers down, so that it’s a visual cue to maintain your physical distancing posters and signage about, you know, sanitation and health, wash your hands,” Riffle said.

Minnesota mandates at least 6 feet of distance between pieces of workout equipment but more for treadmills “and other aerobic activity that encourages high exertion” at gyms. Members are strongly encouraged to wear face masks also to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, except during vigorous aerobic exercise.


“If we know that we have 12 treadmills, we’re going to take about 70% of them and make that reservable and then keep the rest as on a walk-in basis,” Riffle said.

Staffers set up the east side of the gym for live fitness classes, when they resume, to adhere to social distancing guidelines. They also moved the non-electrical cardio machines and strength equipment to the west side of the gym, also spacing the fitness equipment at least 6 feet apart.

“We were able to space it out so that we didn’t have to shut anything down,” Riffle said.

The second part of the Brainerd YMCA’s first phase of reopening for those ages 13 and older begins Monday with the reopening of its lap pool and open basketball.

The second phase of the Y’s reopening plan, however, will include increased group fitness classes, babysitting, aquatic center pool, limited youth sports, limited swim lessons, pickleball and other programs as allowed. A date has not been announced yet for the second phase.

The Brainerd Family YMCA’s new hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays — this week and next — and then the Y will be open 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the weeks after.


FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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