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Fairmont Park Board weighs reopening options

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Park Board weighed in Tuesday on the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s parks, learning what amenities are closed to the public and what might be opened.

“The new guidelines from the governor have given a little bit of flexibility. I’m really looking for feedback on what you feel,” said Troy Nemmers, city engineer/public works director.

He told the board the latest guidance from the state requires the park’s shelter houses to continue to be closed, because of a gathering limit of 10 people, until at least June 1, when the governor will update the situation. In addition, local playgrounds are closed and taped off, the fish-cleaning shack is closed and the bathrooms are closed.

Nemmers has checked with other communities to see how they are handling the situation.

“It’s all over the board,” he said. “There are some cities that have opened their restrooms, some that haven’t. There are some that have opened playgrounds, and some that haven’t.”

He said those communities that opted to open facilities put up signs about how often or even if the area was sanitized.

Jodie Whitmore, board member, said people are already having picnics in the parks, and boaters stop by to use the bathrooms.

“I think the restrooms should be opened with appropriate signage,” said board member Craig Nelson. “It’s summertime. People are going to be outside and at the park. It’s not like people could get in the car and run to a restaurant because they’re closed too. There’s nowhere to go.”

“I would like to see picnic tables put out in the parks too,” said Randy Lubenow, City Council liaison to the Park Board. “If we could put a sign on each table, I don’t understand why we couldn’t put some picnic tables out also.”

Whitmore asked about the city’s procedures for cleaning the picnic tables and bathrooms.

“The picnic tables, we go through once or twice a year, but people usually clean them (before use),” said Nick Lardy, park and street superintendent. “The bathrooms are cleaned every morning and checked in the afternoon.”

“I’d say open them if we can,” Whitmore said.

“I think we have to go back to personal responsibility and personal choice. We can’t continue to live in fear,” Lubenow said. “If you look at the stats, the actual chance of you getting it are very low. If you do have underlying health conditions or you’re elderly, it can be bad for those people, but those people can make the choice not to use that stuff.”

Nelson said 80 percent of the COVID deaths in Minnesota have been in long-term care facilities.

“We’re like punishing a whole section of the population for a problem that is basically the elderly or among those in group situations,” he said.

“I guess we have risks, whether we have COVID or not, but we need to do this safely,” said Greg Gellert, board chairman.

“Nobody has the solution or the right answer because there’s none right now,” Whitmore said.

Nemmers planned to pass on their opinions to the new city administrator, Cathy Reynolds, who is scheduled to start work today.

Lardy updated the board on his department’s seasonal preparations. He said the new boat ramp has been installed at Ward Park, and 19 docks have been installed at various locations in the chain of lakes. All picnic tables, benches and garbage cans received a fresh coat of paint over the winter. About 60 tons of asphalt was put on the Gomsrud Park lot. The shelter houses and bathrooms have been cleaned, and the water is turned on.

“All we have to do is unlock them when we get the word,” he said.

In her report, Roni Dauer, CER director, said Community Education and Recreation activities have taken on a virtual aspect while waiting for some relaxation of the governor’s restrictions. No picnic or equipment packages can be checked out at this time because of sanitation requirements.

“We’re just trying to make the best of what we can do,” she said. “We are here, and we are working. If anybody has suggestions, please let me know. We’re looking for more ideas all the time.”

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