For many children, summer means swimming and camp. Strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines are causing quite a few communities to cancel those activities this season.
“It’s a very difficult decision, it goes against everything a parks and recreation professional goes through,” said Bill DeMaio, Newington’s Parks and Recreation supervisor.
DeMaio said the town pools won’t be filled this year and their in-person camps will be replaced by a virtual one.
Mustafa Bodur said he’s had a pool pass for the past three years.
“Every day, every day we were here and at the other pool,” said Bodur, who spent time at Newington’s Mill Pond Park on Wednesday with his 4-year-old daughter, Sue Hana, picking up leaves and twigs next to the nearby playground equipment that sat empty, surrounded by police tape.
While Gov. Ned Lamont has cleared the way for pools, playgrounds, and summer camps to reopen next month, he’s leaving it up to the municipalities with some strict guidelines to follow.
“Of course the water is clean through the chlorine, but the handles on the railings that go into the pools, the locker rooms, the urinals, the toilets, the shower handles, everything would have to be cleaned out every time one child or one parent uses the pool,” DeMaio explained.
DeMaio said the town surveyed last year’s 500 day camp families about their likelihood to use park services this year. He said around 125 families completed the survey and 68% of those said they would not feel comfortable sending their children to camp this summer.
Instead, the town will hold a virtual summer camp called “Zoomerrific” for $75 a week.
“We’re going to deliver arts and crafts projects, we’re going to deliver ice cream and candy bars, we’re going to judge their driveway chalk contest. So, I think we’re going to have a pretty good answer for making the best of summer as we possibly can," he explained.
Towns making the same decision to cancel camps include West Hartford, Berlin, and Rocky Hill. West Hartford and Berlin will also keep their pools closed. Rocky Hill has not decided whether to reopen theirs. Berlin, Newington, and Rocky Hill all fall under the same health district, along with Wethersfield.
“I think it’s really upsetting for families who really rely on that for lessons and just getting the family out of the house. It’s been hard already,” said Laura Flanagan of West Hartford.
Flanagan added that she’d planned on putting her own daughter in swim lessons this summer, but was lucky enough to have a family member with a pool to rely on.
For others, a public pool is the only option.
“Where we gonna take the kids? You don’t have a yard, you don’t have a pool,” asked Janet Alverado of New Britain, who joked that she would have to put a plastic pool in the parking lot of her apartment complex if her city’s pools didn’t reopen or she felt too unsafe to visit one of them.
"Summer's Not Canceled"
Bucking the trend of neighboring towns to cancel camps and keep pools closed, New Britain’s mayor said summer activities will go on in her city.
“Summer’s not canceled,” said Mayor Erin Stewart.
She said her office has fielded phone call after phone call from worried parents wondering where to send their children this summer.
“There is an ultimate need for our working families to get their kids in some type of care. We have to offer this,” she said.
However, camp will look different than years past. Because of social distancing, only 10 kids can be in each camp for a total of 30 at each site, said Stewart.
She said that more campsites will be established but not all are at parks that have pools. Because there will not be transportation available to the day camps this summer, some participants will not have swim lessons or pool time. However, she added that there will be a water feature at each camp, just not the splash pads, which will remain closed for the season.
Stewart said there will be approximately 120 spots open each week for the 500 families Stewart estimates will sign up for the $40 program which will start June 29.
The decision to do a lottery for those spots is making waves with some parents.
“When I do go to work I need to know that I have somewhere for my son to be,” said Sarah Fragione of New Britain.
Fragione said she relies on camps during the summer for her 9-year-old son, so that she can work and go to school. A gym supervisor, Fragione said she expects to be called back to work soon.
“We have three weeks to decide because our next phase is opening up in less than three weeks. So, what happens when that three weeks is up? Where are we going to go, what are we going to do,” Fragione said.
“We have a lot of people who don’t have swimming pools at their homes, they don’t have the luxury of air conditioning,” Stewart pointed out. “I think this is a service we should be attempting to provide.”
Anyone will be able to use the New Britain pools, not just residents, but they will have to pre-register online and they will only be able to visit the pool for two hours.
“You won’t be able to just walk into a pool this year,” she said, adding that the pools will be cleaned for 30 minutes in between blocks of visitors.
New Britain’s neighbors, Berlin and Newington, decided their pools would stay closed and their camps canceled at the strong urging of the local health department.
“The guidelines set in place by state organizations would drastically limit the number of participants we would be able to register and even with those participants, there are major limitations on what can be offered. Opening the pools proves very challenging due to the social distancing guidelines as well as the sanitation guidelines,” Berlin’s Parks and Recreation Department posted on its website.
“This is a time when we better err on caution and err on public safety,” said DeMaio. “We would rather apologize for any inconvenience we cause parents as opposed to giving them our condolences.”
Bodur said he was looking forward to getting pool passes in Newington for the fourth year in a row, but the coronavirus changed that.
“If some town is open, the pool, I’m not going either,” said Bodur.
Tayrelliss Luciano, who has a 16-month-old daughter, told us she plans to use the pool in New Britain’s AW Stanley Park this summer.
“I still think that people are going to remain their distance from each other and just come here to have fun and spend time with their families,” she said.
Stewart said the summer won’t be the same, but it also won’t be ruined.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to live with the virus and that doesn’t mean kids can stop being kids,” she added.