Eastern Kentucky University’s campus recreation center opened this semester as students returned to campus. The facility officially opened in Jan. 2020 and only operated for a couple months before COVID-19 closed the building.
To prepare for the reopening, staff members spent two months over the summer researching and comparing with other institutions, specifically in Kentucky, what could be opened and how to run a facility that was used to getting 1,000 people a day, according to assistant director of facilities and member services Ryan Fisher. Once they got feedback, a plan was put into place and then communicated to both staff and patrons.
“Our main goal was to be as proactive as possible,” Fisher said. “I think seeing and knowing what we could do in making sure we can keep it as normal as possible by following policies and safety guidelines set with the state and across the nation, we used a lot of that information to make sure we were able to do what we were used to but also on the smaller scale.”
One challenge in reopening was teaching staff members the new policies and procedures necessary to operate. With a lot of new staff members starting this fall and without time in the summer to have training, they had to find a way to make sure staff members were up to date on the policies their program or position had to follow.
Another challenge was communicating the plan to patrons. An opening guide was made available for patrons to view on the campus recreation website or through email. For both patrons and staff, adjusting to new policies was not immediate.
Fisher said, “It’s taken time just to get used to the different policies that we do have in place, but like I said, we’ve tried to do our best to keep as much normalcy as possible during this time, but again within limitations and safety guidelines.”
To ensure safety, equipment was spread out across the facility to allow for social distancing but also keeping as much equipment available and accessible for use as possible. Basketball courts and the multi-activities court were converted into equipment spaces, and other equipment around the building were separated to be six feet apart. At one time, there is an occupancy limit of 500 people in the building, but smaller spaces such as the pool and climbing center are only permitted to have 20 or 30 people in the space at one time. Masks are required except when patrons are working out.
Fisher said, “If a patron wants to work out, they don’t have to wear a mask as they are actively working out, but as they come in, leave, walk through the hallways, to the bathroom, we are having them wearing masks just to be safe.”
Student staff members are also required to wear masks and gloves. At the equipment desk and the front desk, sneeze guards were installed as an extra barrier between the staff member and the patron. Student staff members will also use a cleaning solution and wipe down the equipment as soon as possible after each use.
For senior forensic science major Mauro Madrid, this second wipedown is important to him as he uses the equipment.
“The biggest thing for me is that second wipedown of the equipment. I think that’s like a very important thing that they’re doing because it’s ensuring like every time someone touches something it’s clean,” Madrid said.
Adam Wood, sophomore professional golf management and business management double major, also noted the extra cleaning by staff makes sure nothing is left over from a previous patron.
Wood said, “You know there’s not any like stuff left over from the previous person on the machine that you could touch, which is good.”
Both Madrid and Wood attend the rec center five or six times a week. Both had to adjust to the new location of certain equipment, but over time, they found where certain machines were located and adjusted to the new space.
In addition to cleaning and sanitizing equipment, Aramark and staff members clean and sanitize other areas of the facility to maintain the health and wellness of others. Aramark is the custodial staff that mainly focuses on cleaning the locker rooms, bathrooms, floors and hallways. Staff members focus on cleaning desk spaces, door handles and railings. The goal is to be proactive in keeping everyone safe by cleaning areas during the day that may be used by patrons or staff.
“We just try to be as proactive as possible. Regardless if it's the equipment, railings, stairwells, doorknobs, we try to make sure everything is cleaned and sanitized throughout the day,” Fisher said.
Recently, the equipment desk reopened, where patrons can check out racquetball equipment, basketballs, and other fitness accessories such as weight belts, ankle straps and lifting straps. Once the equipment is returned, staff members will sanitize them with a cleaning solution and put it off to the side to dry for about ten minutes before the next patron is able to use them. The goal is to continue adding equipment available for checkout as the semester progresses.
Two big programs associated with campus recreation, group fitness classes and intramural sports, had to adjust to meet different policies and procedures.
For group fitness classes, there are occupancy limits and social distancing is enforced. Cycling class takes place on the basketball court to allow for an increased number of attendees while maintaining proper social distancing. Masks are not required once the class starts, but any equipment used must be cleaned before the next class.
Intramural sports have also been adjusted. The first intramural of the semester was a Madden tournament. Along with Esports, softball and kickball are the two in-person sports taking place currently. New protocols have been implemented during those games even at the intramural fields, including social distancing and mask requirements. For softball, players must provide their own glove. Some equipment may be provided, but must be cleaned and sanitized often.
Having both Esports and in-person sports provides more opportunities for students to get involved in new and pre-existing sports.
Fisher said, “We want to keep a balance of both in-person sports that people have been used to but esports also allows us to include different sports and different tournaments and competitions we haven’t done in the past.”
Safety of staff and patrons was a priority in reopening the facility. Both Madrid and Wood feel safe attending the facility, but they noticed a decrease in the number of patrons at the gym.
Fisher noted there has been a decrease in attendance in a day. Some patrons have reached out and expressed interest in returning, but are waiting until things become normal. There has been an increase within the past week as the basketball court reopened and equipment checkout began again.
“We are seeing our numbers increase, so I think as individuals get used to what this semester looks like across the university, that should only hopefully benefit us numbers-wise and we continue seeing that increase,” Fisher said.
For more information on current guidelines and other programs, visit https://campusrec.eku.edu/ or download the EKU Campus Rec app.