Will there be a late summer rec program in Baxter?
Baxter City Council decides to take wait-and-see approach for summer parks and recreation schedule.
Closing the door to summer parks and recreation programs was met with hesitancy for a second time and from a second governing body.
Weeks after the Brainerd School District hesitated to cancel summer parks and rec programs, the Baxter City Council indicated its own desire to take a wait-and-see approach before closing that door. The district provides year-round recreational programming for the city.
Baxter city parks, particularly the ballfields, are normally hubs of summer activity with children in summer baseball, softball and T-ball leagues, along with their parents, families and friends. On April 14, in a special meeting of a joint powers board with Baxter and the Brainerd School District discussed the summer program’s future amid the coronavirus pandemic. The spring and summer programming was suspended indefinitely.
The school district suspended community education programs until July 1. With no revenue from registration fees, the district laid off a majority of its community education staff. Those employees coordinate and run Baxter’s recreation program.
The Minnesota Department of Health predicted the peak of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota would be in summer. Chapulis said data currently indicates the peak in cases could be in June or early July. He said the city doesn’t have the resources to protect the health and safety of city recreational staff without changing the level of services. The city also hasn’t hired the normal seasonal staff, which are heavily utilized for the summer programs.
Currently, public gatherings of more than 10 people are not encouraged by CDC guidelines. Chapulis said in multiple discussions online and in webinars, one thing has remained constant. Even when the governors lift stay-at-home orders, social distancing is going to be a placeholder until there is a vaccine, Chapulis said.
At the conclusion of that meeting, the joint powers board members said the best interest for the district and the city was to consider cancellation of the summer programming. The school board had a 3-3 tie vote on the subject, with some wanting to wait. Tuesday, the city council was asked to take action.
“I feel canceling the season this early is not putting forth the best effort possible and exploring all options to have a season,” Tautges stated. “These social activities are desperately needed in the community.”
Tautges stated the activities allow children and young adults to have a positive influence and experience and needed physical activity.
With the situation changing, a parent recommended waiting until later in the season.
Mayor Darrel Olson said they do understand the importance of the programming and have received a lot of emails and phone calls on this issue. The question, Olson said, is what is safe and what is the wise thing to do.
“My thought would be to postpone making any type of final decision,” said council member Connie Lyscio. “I agree with the letter writers and I’ve had numerous conversations with parents and some neighborhood kids and other people with the city. … I don’t think we need to decide tonight.
“I think if we can move forward and have a later start, you know, run it July and into mid-August, I am confident that the community ed could bring their staff back.”
Lyscio said she was confident the experienced staff members would be able to handle it and there may be too many parent volunteers.
“I just think it’s really important that we consider waiting on any decision,” Lyscio said. “ … I’m a strong advocate for waiting. We all need a win in this.”
Lyscio referenced Gov. Tim Walz had yet to make a decision on whether the schools would reopen or what would happen to spring sports. Thursday, Walz announced schools would not be back in session this spring and spring school sports were also canceled.
Council member Mark Cross agreed on waiting.
“I think it’s too soon to make a decision,” Cross said. “Until we get all the facts and know what is going to happen in the next couple of months, I’m for postponing it also.”
Council member Zach Tabatt said without a reason to act right away, the city might as well give it a little more time. Council member Todd Holman said he supported the consensus.
“I don’t think I’ve ever received as many interesting comments from our community as this has, so it’s on everybody’s mind,” Olson said.
The council voted to postpone a decision. Olson asked if they should put a time on when to revisit it. Lyscio said she would like to hang on as long as possible. Even with the end to a stay-at-home order, Olson said the issue of social distancing will remain. Holman asked if the city would want to create crowds and expect people to social distance themselves at events, that could be a challenge. As a parent and grandparent, Holman said he’d be there to watch the kids and he wondered about that aspect. Holman said the city also needed to keep in mind what the city needed to do to make sure the parks and fields would be in shape. Lyscio said park ambassadors could be there to remind people about social distancing in a friendly way. Holman said he had a job like that as a high school teacher at the school dance.
“It was always a struggle,” Holman said.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.