Cancellation likely for summer Baxter parks and rec season
The decision isn’t final, but there likely will not be a 2020 summer Baxter Parks and Recreation season.
Members of the joint powers board, a collaboration between the city of Baxter and Brainerd Public Schools, met Tuesday, April 14, via Google Hangout to discuss the fate of activities for this coming summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baxter contracts with the school district’s Community Education department to run its summer baseball, softball and T-ball leagues. After discussing the possibility of shortening the season or pushing it back, members of the board agreed to recommend cancellation.
The ultimate decision is up to the Brainerd School Board and the Baxter City Council.
Those present Tuesday included Community Education Director Cori Reynolds, Superintendent Laine Larson, Community Education Secretary Cylinda Ring, Baxter City Administrator Brad Chapulis, Parks and Recreation Coordinator Joe Pohlkamp, Baxter Community Development Director Josh Doty and Brainerd Parks Director Tony Sailer.
Discussion centered around the Minnesota Department of Health’s recent prediction of a peak of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota around mid-July. Community Education programs, Reynolds said, are already suspended until July 1 and some staffers have been laid off after loss of revenue from registration fees. The district’s fiscal year ends June 30, though, so some staff members will be able to come back in July when the tax levy and state aid funds reset.
So far, Reynolds said Community Education canceled its soccer program and refunded all the registration fees. A decision has not yet been made on tennis.
Registrations have now been turned off for the Baxter Parks and Rec programs, though 97 people already signed up for the ball teams and paid registration fees.
Pohlkamp tossed out the idea of starting the season in July rather than May and having it run for six weeks into August. He said he’s heard from parents who are concerned about their kids not having anything to do during the summer. A shortened six-week program, he said, would at least give kids and families some semblance of a summer.
Chapulis said he liked that idea, but he, Reynolds and Superintendent Larson worried about the feasibility of getting fields ready with limited staff members. Larson also noted it takes a lot of time and effort to organize all the programs for July just to find out social distancing guidelines might still be in effect and all the registration fees have to be refunded.
Chapulis added social distancing will likely be a norm until a COVID-19 vaccine is found, and no one knows exactly when that will be.
“I want to be optimistic but also cautious and not put ourselves, our employees or the general public at greater risk,” Chapulis said.
Larson agreed, saying the most important thing right now is trying to keep everyone safe and healthy by following guidelines from health officials.
Pohlkamp said he understood and agreed with the objectives but has also heard concerns from community members about why the decision to cancel activities for July is taking place.
“‘Because of the uncertainty’ is what I keep saying,” he said, noting there will likely be people upset about the decision to cancel this early even if it does turn out to be the right call.
Chapulis said he doesn’t have a problem shouldering that responsibility because input into decisions of that nature fall under his regular duties as a city administrator.
From a community development standpoint, Doty said he agreed with everyone’s thoughts and said with the peak predicted in July it’s hard to imagine things magically changing by that time.
After discussions with several other communities throughout the state as part of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association, Sailer said many cities are trying to put off the decision to cancel summer sports as long as possible, but are ultimately thinking along the same lines as the joint powers board. He also noted many cities have already decided to cancel Fourth of July events and hope instead to have fireworks displays Labor Day weekend.
With board members’ recommendation to cancel the summer sports season, the Brainerd School Board will vote on the measure during a meeting Wednesday, April 15, and the Baxter City Council will do the same Tuesday, April 21.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .