Union will be reopening the park sites it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The board of aldermen unanimously voted Monday, June 1, to give parks director Chad Pohlmann the discretion to reopen park sites. The city also will move forward with the July 3 fireworks celebration at Veterans Memorial Park, though without its traditional concert and concessions.
“If you don’t want people to come into the main park there, so be it,” Alderman Bob Schmuke said of the fireworks. “People can social distance up and down the soccer fields and stuff with no problem. They can sit in their cars or whatever, park along the road, set lawn chairs in the grass. I see no problem whatsoever with the fireworks.”
After the meeting, Pohlmann said he plans to move forward with opening the Splash-N-Swimplex, as well as the splash pad. He expects the pool to take several weeks to get going because seasonal staff needs to be trained.
Pohlmann said he put plans in place for a variety of guidelines the board could have issued. It wasn’t long after he took his position in February that park activity started being restricted.
“I’m excited about getting the parks opened and giving people something to do,” Pohlmann told The Missourian. “And I think that each individual case is going to take a lot of thought, consideration and prayer to determine what’s the best course of action.”
To avoid overcrowding, the city could limit the pool to Union residents. Officials discussed a system where pool users get a card by presenting a city utility bill.
The vote came a day before the first COVID-19 death was announced in Union. With the Tuesday, June 2, announcement that a 94-year-old woman died, the city has two active cases and 17 recovered cases.
Also included in the reopening are baseball and softball fields. The city’s park advisory board approved a request to the board to allow the fields to reopen for supervised practice at its Thursday, May 28, meeting, but the board took it a step further and also allowed games to be played, though tournaments appear unlikely in Union this year.
The Union youth baseball and softball leagues previously canceled their seasons and are issuing refunds. The fields are expected to be used by teams in the so-called COVID league, which is made up of unofficial American Legion teams in the area.
Pohlmann also will have to figure out what the rules are for how many Union players or coaches a team needs to be able to practice on city fields.
Reopening parks was initially supposed to be discussed at the board’s June 8 meeting, but Alderman Paul Arand requested it be moved up a week. On Monday, Arand said the closures were “government overreach.”
“Of all the issues since I’ve been an alderman, I’ve received more phone calls about this issue than any other issue,” he told fellow aldermen.
While several elected officials spoke about the danger of opening too soon at the Monday, May 4, meeting, they all came around to the reopening side this week. Some did express concerns.
“The first child who comes down sick, it’s over, there will be no ifs ands or buts about it,” Alderman Bill Isgriggs said.
Arand responded that there is no way to know for sure where a child contracted the virus.
“OK, they track it, he went to 50 different locations before he went to the park,” Arand said of county tracking systems.
City Administrator Russell Rost repeated that he based Union’s decisions on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. While most area cities had policies similar to Union’s, he said cities like Sullivan were following what Union did.
Other events that are expected to take place in the coming months are concerts and movies in the parks.
The board also approved an extension of the city’s policy of not collecting late fees on utility bills through July and not cutting off service in June.