On March 12, I had just sent a full schedule of programs, classes and events to the Farragutpress for publication in the spring issue of “Talk of the Town.” The story list for the quarterly publication, which runs as an insert in the newspaper, was unusually long due to the new offerings at the Farragut Community Center.
That was when the entire Parks & Rec staff was called into a meeting. Our director, Sue, told us that all events at the community center were canceled through April 3 due to COVID-19, a virus that was hitting some U.S. cities hard but was new to Knox County. Two large events were canceled, and athletic fields were closed. I ran back to my office after the meeting to put a hold on “Talk of the Town.”
At the time, it seemed incredible that we were shutting down for three weeks. If only we had known. Here we are, three months later, and it seems incredible that we’re opening back up.
Let me tell you that a Parks & Rec staff with no parks and rec is a frustrated group. This is a creative, energetic bunch that finds fulfillment in serving the public, and the shutdown came just 10 days after community center programs officially began. We have literally been disappointed every day since March 12.
Despite all this stifled enthusiasm, opening up town facilities in a way that satisfies both the Knox County Health Department and Farragut citizens is a challenge. Is there a way to structure volleyball, basketball or pickleball programs in our gym that allows players to be socially distant? How do we set up the Assembly Hall to accommodate 50 people who are spaced six feet apart? Will we provide masks for community center users, or require them to bring their own?
Coming up with policies for this new space was incredibly time-consuming, and that was before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Revising those policies to meet new health standards will be difficult, to say the least. The primary objective of the community center was to bring people together; it doesn’t seem natural to now try to keep people apart.
But we must, so we will. In addition to the community center, our athletic fields are opening, but with new rules. The details of the reopening will be available online here and on the town’s social media on Tuesday, May 26.
The biggest challenge of all will be managing the McFee Park splash pad. While Knox County fast-tracked the opening of pools and splash pads, the quick change won’t allow the town to open up the splash pad on May 26. This is a complicated system that requires extensive maintenance before the season begins, and our service provider couldn’t begin the process until the county gave the OK.
Even after the service is completed, other factors will need to be addressed. How can we control the number of users at the splash pad, given that there’s no fence? And how can staff encourage individuals and groups to stay safely apart? Veteran splash pad users won’t enjoy these new standards, but as your local government, we will be required to enforce them.
We can’t go back to the way things were at the beginning of March, but we can appreciate the fact that we’re moving forward. We ask the community for patience as we reopen.
Town of Farragut public relations and marketing coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut Insider.