Will there be an Aquatic Center season this year?
Summer just wouldn’t be summer for many area residents without a trip to Chambersburg’s version of a water park.
The state of-the-art Aquatic Center at Memorial Park is one of the most unique municipal facilities in Central Pennsylvania. It has become the go-to place to spend a hot summer day, both locally and from distant communities.
The facility with its multiple water slides, lazy river and other water features opened in May, 2018. It had two very successful seasons, drawing crowds from as far away as Harrisburg to the north and Martinsburg, W.Va. to the south.
The facility drew more than 1,000 visitors a day at the height of each swim season in 2018 and 2019.
That might not happen this year; but borough officials hope the center can open no later than the end of June.
Deciding when, or even if, to open is challenging for the borough’s recreation staff, according to Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill.
Coronavirus pandemic issues ‘enormous’
“Every day for the last six weeks we have been working on issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.
The virus has impacted all of the borough’s operations in one way or another. Yet no issue has consumed more time and discussion than the Aquatic Center, Stonehill said.
The issues are enormous during a pandemic that has seen mass closures and stay-at-home orders. Public safety is a high priority. To safely open a facility like an aquatic center after those orders are lifted requires a lot of planning.
Chambersburg is in Franklin County, just north of Maryland. The Aquatic Center draws crowds from Harrisburg to Martinsburg to Gettysburg.
“Pools are licensed facilities and must follow Department of Health guidelines,” Borough Manager Jeff Stonehill said.
The Center can’t open during the state’s “red phase” closure, which affects most businesses and public facilities. Franklin County isn’t likely to move to the “yellow” phase which will allow for limited openings until at least June.
Stonehill is not even sure if things like swimming pools and water parks will be allowed to open then. The green have probably would allow the borough to open the aquatic center and other recreational programs. There is no indication as to when that will be, he said.
Opening question is ‘if’ not when
“We want our guests to know that the chlorinated water of the pool should kill the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “Our concerns revolve around social distancing inside the facility; finding a way to enjoy the facility and still comply with the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines.”
A facility like the Chambersburg Aquatic Center faces a number of challenges should social distancing requirements continue.
“We want to make sure that we are protecting our lifeguards, our concession stand workers, and we aren’t exposing our citizens and workers to unnecessary risks,” Stonehill said.
Borough staff Is looking at a lot of details involved in safely opening the aquatic center this summer.
“As of today, we really have too many questions to know how the Chambersburg Aquatic Center might operate safely and practically,” Stonehill said.
It is clear, he said, that the Chambersburg Aquatic Center will not reopen as originally planned May 23.
Work will continue on preparing for a potential reopening later in the season although, as time passes, that becomes problematic as well.
If it can’’t open in time for the July 4 holiday, it is unlikely to open at all this summer.