Even during pandemic, rec centers can be more accessible | Editorials

Patrons of the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and other city recreational facilities have questions about

Patrons of the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and other city recreational facilities have questions about operations that deserve answers.

They believe too few people are being allowed in the one open facility — the Chavez Center — and that Fort Marcy Recreation Complex and Salvador Perez Recreation Center could and should be reopened for swimming. They are upset the ice rink at the Chavez Center remains shut down. They claim current center hours don’t work for people who have day jobs. They also are furious about a reservation system that relies on phone calls and fills up quickly.

The city might be correct on its decisions about occupancy numbers and hours — operating with an abundance of caution against the backdrop of a pandemic — but both elected leaders and rec center bosses need to do a better job of communication.

It’s impossible to have a community forum where patrons can fill a room and deliver a barrage of questions, but a Facebook Live chat or a Zoom meeting might answer good questions and provide valuable information.

The first questions might focus on hours — the Chavez Center now is open 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and is closed Sundays. Longtime members remember the days of the center opening at 5:30 a.m. and closing at 9 p.m. most weekdays, with weekend hours shorter but both days open.

One discussion for a community virtual meeting could be projecting when hours might be extended. Another hour in the morning would help working people. Folks who aren’t retired and who don’t set their own hours have trouble using the center right now. The competition for the pre- and after-work sessions is stiff.

And that’s another question. COVID-19 rules for red counties under the state Department of Health orders allow for 25 percent occupancy in gyms.

Santa Fe remains in the red zone under state guidelines, and the center allows 10 people per hour in each open area.

For a space as large as the Chavez Center — 177,000 square feet — it is difficult to believe those numbers rise to 25 percent occupancy. A discussion with facility and other city officials might give clues about the reasons for such strict limits.

To allow all an equal opportunity to exercise, staff members take reservations. The system is simple. Folks who want to walk, use the cardio machines or lift weights call the day before to request a time and space. Swimmers get a standing reservation, but February apparently is filled. It’s so limited that some swimmers are driving to Albuquerque to get in additional exercise. The children’s pool and sauna are shut.

For now, it’s impossible to make reservations online or through an app, meaning folks who want to visit the Chavez Center have to call, sometimes several times. There doesn’t even seem to be a shortcut to skip the message and go directly to a staff member.

If a preferred time is filled, the rules don’t allow a patron to make a reservation for another day; patrons simply have to call back. Reserving a spot by phone favors people who have the time and opportunity. That’s another way people who are at work lose out.

The Chavez Center is a jewel for Santa Fe, with facilities to make many a larger town jealous. Obviously, COVID-19 precautions are necessary. Keeping the virus from spreading is essential. But it’s also important for people to be able to exercise and release tension that has built up over these many months of the pandemic.

Decisions to limit hours and occupancy and to keep other facilities closed might have been the correct ones — back in 2020. But as the city figures out what and how to open safely, it needs to reconsider previous choices and explain its reasons.

Find out what Albuquerque is doing — from all reports, swimming is more accessible there. The Outpost ice rink is closed to public skating but does offer classes and ice time for hockey. Talk to private gym operators about how they are operating in a COVID-19-safe manner. Incorporate best practices.

Keep in mind, too, the people who leave the Chavez Center now for new gyms such as Defined Fitness or old favorites like Santa Fe Spa might not return once the pandemic passes. The city needs to think of the people who use the rec centers as customers, looking always to serve their needs in a safe, economical fashion.

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