City hopeful aid influx, guidelines will allow pools to operate

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reported last week that indoor family entertainment centers, like arcades, laser tag facilities and trampoline parks will be allowed to reopen statewide starting March 26 at 25% capacity.

So looking ahead to late spring, what will that mean for outdoor recreation, such as municipal parks and swimming pools?

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said Monday that it’s too early to tell what plans will be, but city officials are hopeful the governor will lessen restrictions on spring and summer activities.

According to the governor’s announcement, outdoor amusement parks will be allowed to return in April, and summer camps can resume in June.  All must adhere to additional precautions, such as mask wearing, social distancing and frequent cleaning, due to federal health officials’ concerns that highly contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus could threaten the nation’s progress.

Izzo said while the state has issued plans for reopening indoor recreation parks and summer camps, it has not yet distributed any guidance in how that would be accomplished.  So far New York has not issued any information about opening parks and pools, she said.

Once the state does issue reopening guidance, the county Health Department will get involved and set guidelines, such as mask wearing, social distancing, etc.

“Last year our parks were open, just not staffed,” Izzo said, “20% of our state aid was withheld by the governor (that would help fund staffing), and according to the proposed state budget, it still remains that way.  But in the stimulus bill pending in Congress, there is a good amount of money targeted for Rome.  So our intentions would be yes, we would like the pools open” this summer.

The mayor said, however, that reopening Rome’s municipal pools would be dependent on receiving the needed funding for staffing, whether the 20% state aid is no longer withheld, or the city receives stimulus revenues. Once city parks and pools receive the OK from the state to reopen, the city would also need to be informed by the health department how to go about testing staff, as well as other strategies for ensuring a safe environment, Izzo said.  

As for when and how parks and pools will be open this spring, “We’re hoping to have more clarity on that next month,” she said.  “It also depends on the vaccination rate.”

The weekend of Feb. 20-21 was the first Kennedy Arena opened its rink to Rome Grizzlies Youth Hockey games, which included just players and coaches with no spectators.  Members of the youth hockey league had been holding practices at the arena since November. 

Rome Free Academy also began holding practices for the high school team, and will play its three season home games at the arena.  Their season will consist of 12 games played over the course of 4-5 weeks.

“We needed to see the flow for the teams and coaches,” said Izzo, referring to how Grizzlies games would be conducted safely at the arena.  “The problem right now is recruiting help.”

The requirement right now is that staff “(COVID-19) test every 14 days, and we’re getting some push back on that.  There’s just not enough staff to accommodate more” at the arena right now, she said.

Rome Youth Hockey Association President Jason Combs said the first weekend of Grizzlies games “went well” as far as feedback from parents.

“It went smooth with no complications,” he reported.

Combs said the number of kids enrolled and playing is down this year, with much of that attributed to some “false rumors” about how COVID-19 operations would be handled at the arena at the kick-off of the season. 

“We lost between 30-50 kids that went to Utica at the time, and then when they found out we’d be open, they were already obligated to stay there,” Combs said.  “We have about 160 registered kids.”

Due to no families being allowed at the arena and the cancellation of the association’s usual learn-to-skate events, RYHA also lacked opportunities to recruit more kids, Combs said.

While exact numbers weren’t available, the RYHA president said revenues are expected to be down for the season, especially with the Grizzlies having to play an abbreviated season.

“We lowered our rate because of the abbreviated season, and we fully went in knowing we would take a hit,” said Combs.  “If we have somewhere between a $7,000 to $10,000 loss, it won’t be a big surprise.  The arena raised its rate a little too because it’s short-staffed.  But we’ve been working well with the city, and we’re hoping we can get families coming in (to watch) within a couple weeks.”

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