The first five months of operation for the new Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center were a resounding success. That is until a sudden shutdown in March due to COVID-19 concerns.
However, as Oregon continues its phased reopening of facilities and businesses the Daugherty Center has finally set its eyes on a specific calendar date. While state guidelines concerning COVID-19 protections are and have been subject to rapid, sudden change, the pool is scheduled to reopen in a limited capacity on Thurs., July 2.
“We feel a commitment to the community to reopen as soon as we can,” said Carrie McCasline who has worked as the pool manager for well over a decade.
“We’re excited to get people back in and hopefully that’s the number one thing that people see, that we want people here swimming. We just have to do it responsibly and make sure we’re doing what’s best for the staff and the patrons.”
Under normal circumstances, the facility would offer a full range of swimming activities from lap swim to recreational, swim lessons, club activities and warm water therapy classes. Due to social distancing guidelines outlined by the governor’s office, the pool will be limited to lap swim and exercise in the warm water therapy pool and hours will be shortened to the morning only. These changes are in line with how other pools in the county have approached their own reopenings.
“We’re only going to be open until 1 p.m. for the first week or so as we get started,” McCasline said. “Regulations from the governor for swimming pools say we’re only allowed to have one person per lane and we can have, based on square footage of the warm water pool, about 15 people in there, but they kind of have to stay in their area and not be swimming around too much.”
While this does put restrictions on how many visitors can use the facility on a day-to-day basis, it’s a vast improvement from no services at all and pool staff are placing worker and patron health and safety above all else.
In addition to typical staffing — front desk and life guard duties — the Daugherty Center, per state instructions, will also have an additional person on hand to act as a social distance monitor, reminding visitors to maintain safe spacing between other patrons when necessary.
Staff will be required to wear masks while working and the pool is asking patrons to wear one as well. Locker rooms, which will be open for use, will be regularly sanitized and visitors are asked to exit the facility through one of two side doors so as to limit foot traffic in the lobby.
If all goes according to plan after July 2, then Cottage Grove residents and pool users from around the area can look forward to further reopening of services.
“We plan on expanding our hours, back into evening hours, after we give our staff a little bit of time to adjust to the new protocols,” McCasline said. “Once we can safely open swim lessons and family swim, we’ll do so. But, we have to follow the guidance from the state and the Oregon Health Authority which tends to change frequently.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge of getting back to business will be making sure that the aquatic center can handle the demand of a community that quickly made the revamped pool a popular local destination after its reopening late last year.
“We are asking that people limit their time here to 45 minutes so that we’re able to get more people in,” McCasline said.
“There could be a time where you come in and you want a lane, but you might have to wait and if that becomes a problem we might go to a reservation system, but we’re not currently set up to easily take reservations.”
The limits to be placed on user pool time, however, are a direct reflection of the pool’s success during its first five months of operation.
From November 2019 to February 2020, public attendance each month at the Daugherty Center more than doubled compared to 2018 figures at the old facility.
Swim lessons filled up ten minutes after opening for registration and additional classes and staff were added to take on the increased demand. Student passes given out nearly tripled compared to two years ago and while January 2018 saw only 191 student drop-ins, January of this year saw that number increase to 605.
“The support that the community has given the pool was huge and the usage shows that. It was just continuing to go up. We were continuing to see new people who hadn’t used the pool before come in and use it every day,” McCasline said.
The Daugherty Center has also recently added Silver Sneakers and Renew Active insurance options for patrons coming to use the warm water pool for physical therapy, allowing them to use the facility at no cost while their insurance is billed for the cost.
From swim lessons for young children to therapy sessions for older visitors, the Daugherty Center has quickly become an important local destination for community members of all ages and the last three months of closure has been a difficult change, but there is now some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We want to make sure we’re offering programming for everyone in the community,” McCasline added. “We have such great people who use the pool and who rely on the pool every day, not just for social aspects, but physical aspects and for them not to have access anywhere has been a challenge. I’m excited to come back in.”