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story.lead_photo.caption FILE: Local children enjoy the weather in 2018 at the Memorial Park splash pad. The city is on the fence about whether to reopen the popular water feature this summer. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Normally by this point in spring, Fulton's Parks and Recreation Department would be hiring lifeguards while local children count down the days until the pool opened and families sign up for summer sports.

The ongoing pandemic and ever-shifting social distancing guidelines have wreaked havoc on the department's summer programming plans, Department Director Clay Caswell said.

"Everyone's waiting to see what everyone else does," Caswell told Fulton City Council during Tuesday's meeting. "I don't know what the right answer is."

The following programs have been preemptively canceled:

  • Aquacise water aerobics class
  • Dive-in movies
  • Junior Lifeguard program
  • Freedom Scramble
  • Youth/Adult golf clinic planned for May
  • Co-ed softball league
  • Summer Cinema (June)
  • Glow and Splash
  • Dog obedience class
  • Co-ed sand volleyball tournament

Pool

The city is on the fence about whether to continue with swim lessons scheduled for July and the Fulton Fins Swim Team.

"If we host a swim meet, we might have as many as a thousand people at the pool," Caswell said. "Of the nine teams in the conference, four have already decided not to participate this year. We're going to see what the others do."

During Tuesday's meeting, the City Council discussed whether to even open the pool for the 2020 season. The Parks and Recreation Department has tentatively set an opening date for June 3. However, the pool takes several weeks to prep for opening, and the City Council did not come to a final vote Tuesday. Some prep work has already begun as city workers perform annual maintenance on the decades-old pool.

At least three municipal pools in the region (those in Centralia, Moberly and Mexico) will remain closed over the summer to avoid spreading COVID-19. If Fulton's pool does open, the Parks and Recreation team has a long list of safety guidelines, including a midday closure to sanitize the restroom and common areas; creating a sign-in sheet to simplify contact tracing, if needed; removing lounge chairs and picnic tables; selling only prepackaged snacks and drinks; and more.

Before the pool can open, Caswell's team will have to finish performing maintenance, fill the pool, order and add pool chemicals, and balance the pool water. They'll also have to hire lifeguards, which may be particularly challenging as the city faces a short pool season. Though the city plans to limit the number of pool patrons to 65, at least 10 lifeguards will need to be hired to fill the schedule, Caswell said.

"We had 12 or 13 lifeguards last year, and only one or two plan to return," he said. "If I don't have enough staff, we can't open."

Caswell recommended against opening the Memorial Park splash pad, which is typically not supervised by a city employee.

"I don't think we could control social distancing there," he said. "We could have 80-90 kids there on a hot day."

Ward 1's Ballard Simmons suggested opening the splash pad but leaving the pool closed, while Ward 3 City Council member John Braun suggested perhaps hiring someone to supervise the splash pad.

"I know my house alone is going stir-crazy," Braun said.

The council will vote on the issue at the May 26 meeting.

Youth baseball/softball

Parks and Recreation is forging ahead with the youth baseball and softball leagues. Registration closed May 8.

"We average 450 participants each summer, and this year, we have 200 signed up," Caswell said. "I'm thinking of that as 200 people who'd like to get out and do something."

Braun said some parents were under the misconception that park bathrooms won't be open during the baseball season. That's incorrect. The original plan was to open them June 8, when league games start. However, during Tuesday's meeting, the council voted to open park bathrooms ASAP and post signs outlining how often they're cleaned.

"Can we do a registration extension, letting people know the restrooms will be open?" Braun asked.

Parks and recreation opted to extend registration through today. To register, stop by the Fulton Parks and Recreation Department at Fulton City Hall or call 573-592-3190 with questions.

Ward 1's Valerie Sebacher pointed out some parents may see the registration fee as a barrier, given that budgets are especially tight at the moment. She suggested allowing families to opt out of purchasing the baseball hat and T-shirt at registration for a lower fee.

A Parks and Recreation document included in the meeting packet outlined extensive social distancing and sanitary measures, including leaving the drinking fountains off, removing bleachers, requiring players to provide their own helmets and bats, and avoiding the dugouts. Spitting sunflower seeds and passing snacks out to the whole team are also forbidden.

"But if three kids are running for a ball, they're going to get close together," Caswell conceded.

"I think most parents know the risks involved," Mayor Lowe Cannell added. "If they're willing to put their child out there with 20 other kids, they're assuming the risk on some level."

To stay updated on Parks and Recreation programming, visit the "Fulton Parks and Recreation, Fulton, MO" Facebook page.

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