The reopening of playing fields and playscapes is still under discussion, as are youth sports.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford’s Department of Leisure Services has announced that in-person summer camp programs will be offered during the summer of 2020.
While there will not be the usual diverse assortment of camp programs, and fewer spaces will be available, Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco said she is excited to be able to offer full-day programs on both sides of town, both of which will complete with federal, state, and local public health guidelines necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the camps will be held at Westmoor Park, and will be able to accommodate 40 children. The “Farm and Nature Summer Fun” camp will be offered in one-week sessions, for eight weeks running from June 29 through Aug. 21. It will be eligible to children ages 6-13. Children who are 5 but entering first grade will also be able to attend, but will have to call the Leisure Services Office to obtain an exception.
The Westmoor Park Camp will include a mixture of farm and nature activities, but will also have shelter available in case of inclement weather. The new outdoor classroom being built in honor of Brigid Curtin, and for which a groundbreaking was held in May, should be ready for use by the middle of July, Rubino-Turco said.
The town’s other camp will be held at the Elmwood Community Center, and will include two separate programs that will accommodate a total of 50 children in each session. The building as well as grounds will be used by the campers, and there may be other outdoor opportunities available including on the nearby Trout Brook Trail, Rubino-Turco said.
“Elmwood Community Center Summer Care” will be for children ages 6-12, and “Busy Bees Summer Care” will serve children ages 3-5. Five-year-olds entering first grade will have the option of attending either camp, Rubino-Turco said.
The Elmwood Community Center camps will run for a total of seven weeks, with a one-week session the week of July 6, and two-week sessions running between July 13-Aug. 21.
Both the Westmoor Park and Elmwood Community Center camps will run Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Campers will be grouped into “pods” of no more than 10 campers with dedicated full-time counselors.
“Town staff and government officials share the common goal of keeping everyone safe,” Rubino-Turco told We-Ha.com on Tuesday. That includes the health and safety of counselors as well as campers and their families.
At Monday night’s meeting of the Town Council’s Special Advisory Committee on Social and Community Recovery, Rubino-Turco said Leisure Services staff did a lot of research and spoke to many other communities and camp operators before deciding how to structure this summer’s programming.
“Our summer camp plans include options on both sides of town and for a variety of age groups and activity interests,” Rubino-Turco said.
Camp registration will open on Thursday, June 11, at 5 p.m., through the Leisure Services Rec Desk and will be available on a first-come-first-served basis.
In addition to the two camps, there will be a wide variety of virtual programming offered free of charge through the Leisure Services Department. Jamie Krajewski, director of the Elmwood Community Center, has already been promoting a wide range of activities on the Leisure Services Facebook page.
Some activities will be held in conjunction with other local organizations such as Bike West Hartford which will offer weekly rides this summer, and West Hartford Yoga which will offer free programs for children. There will be a new version of Parks Bingo as well, Rubino-Turco said, and discussions are underway to collaborate with arts organizations such as Playhouse on Park.
At the town’s five large parks, beginning June 22, there will be game tents open daily from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. offering recreational activities for families. “They will be staffed by seasoned Camp Funtastic counselors, and will offer active and passive games, arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts, at no cost to the community,” Rubino-Turco said.
Each park will also have a “park ambassador” to make community members feel more welcome.
“The goal posts are always changing,” Rubino-Turco said, and discussions are underway about the return of other recreational opportunities that fall within the purview of Leisure Services.
High school tracks have reopened for public use, and both municipal tennis and pickleball courts are available at 50% capacity.
The town has established a Municipal Operations Recovery Team, which includes members from public safety and the Health District, and offers recommendations and approval before sending the plan to the town’s executive leadership team for final approval. Rubino-Turco said it’s likely that tennis and pickleball will be approved by the team to operate at 100% capacity by June 17.
Also being discussed are the reopening of playgrounds and playing fields, which have been closed since late March.
Discussions are underway about reopening the Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in late June.
Basketball is a higher-contact sport, Rubino-Turco said, and courts will remain closed for now, but that decision is also subject to review as more information is received from the state.
As of now there are no plans to open the town’s outdoor pools, she said.
Youth sports are currently permitted to resume during Phase 2 of Reopen Connecticut on June 17, subject to restrictions.
Leisure Services Manager Marc Blanchard has been in contact with the town’s baseball and softball leagues and will be reviewing their plans which will then be subject to review by the Municipal Operations Recovery Team and the executive team.
“We hope to be able to accommodate the needs of the leagues,” Rubino-Turco said during Monday night’s Special Advisory Committee meeting.
Jeff Cianflone, Rob Hanawalt, and Eric Mallinson, representing the town’s baseball leagues, also participated in Monday night’s meeting and said that while they have been continuing to engage with players, all are looking forward to getting back out onto the fields, even if in a modified format.
Hanawalt said the cancellation of spring baseball was pretty serious, but the leagues came up with “stay-home baseball-ready” activities, which were good for that time, but now they are ready to get back to play. He said he, Cianflone, and Mallinson worked together on plans that would be in line with protocols and also surveyed families. Out of 200 replies, 90% said they wanted some kind of baseball.
“We want to ease our way back in, maybe eight to 10 games. We are waiting and excited for any potential opportunities,” Hanawalt said.
“This summer we have had to change our approach but we have not abandoned our mission,” Rubino-Turco said.
In addition to town-run camps, there are also outdoor camp programs available through the Mandell JCC, 241 Sports, and Camp KO.
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