Open For Activity

Council overturns playgrounds, pool decision

Photo submitted to Times Observer From left, Joseph Blasco and Weylin Hohman, Warren city residents and future playground participants, help to spread the word before the city council meeting Monday.

Warren City Council has overturned a city administration decision and the city’s Summer Playground Program and municipal pool will be open in 2021.

Council changed course on the offerings in two 4-3 votes during a special meeting held on Monday night.

City staff made the decision a couple weeks ago to not staff the park program or open the pool. That decision was evidently made without council’s knowledge.

Councilman Doug Hearn said he was “saddened” to hear of the decision specifically regarding the playground program. “All young people need to have these experiences and opportunities. Kids of all ages need to run around and stretch their legs every day.”

“What better way to make sure our community’s kids” do that “than by giving them a playground and park with lots of organized activities in the summer?… I seek an inclusive, safe opportunity for the young people of Warren,” he added, suggesting there is community support for the program.

He then made a motion to have the parks program “in some form” while complying with CDC and Department of Health guidelines.

“Our youth desperately need these programs,” Councilman John Wortman said, and said the city is “failing to adapt.”

Councilman Gregory Fraser didn’t question the value of the program but suggested that this action might be a “slippery slope” of “starting to micromanage the job of the city manager and the administration of our city.”

He said that the action is “overstepping our bounds” and called some of the statements “electioneering postures.

“We need to be extremely cautious about getting into micromanaging what should properly be the administration’s job.”

“I found out about this through the breaking news ticker on the Times Observer,” Councilman Christian Zavinski said, suggesting the decision could have gone through the Parks & Recreation Commission and City Council.

He said offering the program is “giving the people the freedom to choose.”

“People are very aware we’re not out of this tunnel yet,” Mayor Maurice Cashman said. “We are not close to herd immunity.”

“I think it’s the wrong message that we’re sending out to our community,” he added, to say that the park program is a safe thing to do.

Kellie Blasco addressed council and said she had a petition in support of the park program signed by 300 people.

“They need time off their screens,” she said of the kids that would participate in the program, “learning to team build… and talk to each other.

She pointed out the schools have managed COVID-19-related issues, including with playgrounds, and said “I think you underestimate what the youth can do” from a COVID-19 mitigation perspective.

Mike Suppa, chair of the city’s Parks & Recreation Commission, said he was “surprised” to learn of the move in the newspaper and said he would place value in what other communities in the region are doing.

“The parks are going to be full anyway,” Jared Villella added. “The parents that work during the summer need somewhere for their children to go. (I) would rather they be supervised than unsupervised. It makes the community safer.”

Council then approved a motion to staff the playground program in a 4-3 vote – with Zavinski, Wortman, Councilman Phil Gilbert and Hearn votinges. Fraser, Cashman and Councilman Paul Giannini voted in opposition.

Gilbert then made a motion – which was not on the meeting agenda – to open the municipal pool, as well.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said that in recent years the percentage of pool visitors that are city residents has been on the decline and suggested that city residents should be given the first opportunity.

“There is a limit to the number of people in the pool,” she said, as well as in each of the structures. Guidance on food consumption, she added, is that it should only be eaten at a picnic table with people in the same household.

“Our guards aren’t going to know who is in the same household,” she said.

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said that the pool is budgeted based on anticipated revenue and said that, in this year, losses are likely to be larger than what is budgeted.

The pool is often part of the programming for the playground program and Freenock said that initial plans would have the city transporting the kids to Chapman State Park.

“So (we are) going to bus kids out of the city?” Zavinski asked. “If we don’t think the city can run the pool… maybe a larger discussion needs to happen about the pool. What we do with it if this is the new normal.”

“Something is better than nothing for them at this point,” he added. “I’m kind of at my wits end with all of it. They’re insurmountable guidelines.”

“The only thing that hasn’t changed is the virus,” Fraser said. “The virus hasn’t gone away.”

Wortman said that the city has an “obligation” to ensure services are offered. “I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to just say no.”

The motion to re-open the pool passed by the same 4-3 vote.

Freenock offered some preliminary thoughts on how these programs might function.

And it won’t look like 2019.

She said the playground program would be held at Lacy, Beaty and DeFrees as Crescent, the typical third site, will likely be under construction this summer.

“(We) would offer all three parks and the pool be open to city residents only as a way to limit attendance,” she added.

For the playgrounds, each child will need their own equipment, a ratio of one supervisor to 10 kids was outlined and kids will have to go to the park they register for and won’t be able to switch.

Freenock said masks would also be required unless playing a game where it isn’t feasible and social distancing would need to be maintained.

There was discussion about the possibility of a COVID-19-related waiver, as well.

On the pool, specifically, Freenock said she’d discussed the issue with the YMCA, which manages the pool’s daily operation.

“We will be having further discussions,” she said.


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