Baxter City Council votes to cancel summer rec program
Baxter City Council members tried to wait as long as they could before making the decision to close the door on summer recreation programs, but time, restrictions and costs caught up with them.
Tuesday, June 16, the city council met via Zoom with several items to consider related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Brad Chapulis, city administrator, reported while the governor’s executive orders provide greater latitude in terms of programming, the option is not there yet to play games or have competitive tournaments, limiting sessions to practice. Staff recommended the city council officially cancel the 2020 summer recreation program season.
Council member Zach Tabatt said from the staff reports, whether the council wants to cancel it or not, there doesn’t appear to be a capability to provide the type of summer recreation program people previously experienced.
“If that’s the case, I guess I’m at a point now where I’d hate to see it be canceled but it doesn’t seem like it really could go on the way we’re used to doing it,” Tabatt said, adding he’d be in favor of going to the concept recently discussed at Brainerd School District and city of Baxter joint powers board — a dollar baseball program.
The program could use volunteer coaches for basic skills training and to oversee games a few times a week. Essentially, times and dates would be posted for games at Oscar Kristofferson Park in Baxter and anyone interested can participate for $1.
Cori Reynolds, Brainerd Public Schools director of community education, who participated in the Baxter council session, said the dollar program could be organized in a week’s time to get the word out to participants. Chapulis described the idea as sandlot pickup games with volunteers there to ensure social distancing.
Council members Todd Holman and Mark Cross agreed.
“It’s just a heavy heart,” council member Connie Lyscio said. “I certainly understand, but I’m hopeful something can be pulled together, short notice with volunteers to have some aspect of giving the kids opportunities.”
Mayor Darrel Olson said the full force of the program is just out of reach, but the minute something is able to be done, the consensus was to put that in motion.
“We would still be able to salvage some activity for the kids,” Olson said.
Reynolds said she shared Lyscio’s heavy heart and it hasn’t been an easy decision.
“It's not what any of us wanted for kids in our community this summer,” Reynolds said. “... Ultimately, it’s the prohibition on games that kind of says to me we can’t do what we’ve done for the past 10 years for this community. But we don’t want to walk away, we know that families rely on us to provide some summer activities for their kids and baseball is a great summer activity so that’s why we’ve come up with this dollar ball idea. … We want to do something so it’s with hope that we are proposing to offer this if and when we can.”
The council voted unanimously to cancel the season.
With social gatherings now increased from 10 to 25 people, the council agreed to keep the reservations for park pavilion facilities. Previously, the city canceled reservations for late spring and June. Baxter has six reservations for park facilities in July.
“I’m more open at 25 to allowing them to continue,” Tabatt said, asking what a normal rental typically includes for numbers. Chapulis said they’ve been monitoring park usage and people have been respectful for social distancing with Tuesday being more of a challenge at Whipple Beach given the heat. Lyscio, Cross and Holman were also in agreement. Cross suggested getting those reservations to sign an agreement limiting their number to 25.
“My personal feeling is that we should try to, within the confines of safety, I think we should do as much as possible to bring back some normalcy for our people so I would agree with that, too,” Olson said.
The council agreed to allow the Baxter Area Baseball Association to use the Oscar Kristofferson Park ball diamonds and adjacent facilities for its program. The association agreed to conform to the coronavirus preparedness plan it filed with the city and is responsible for supervising the program and children.