As the summer heat rolls in, people start looking for ways to cool off. Marana residents can add the town’s splash pads to their list of activities starting this Saturday—as long as everything goes to plan.
“It will be a little bit of wait and see as to how things work out,” Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta told the town council at its June 2 meeting. “We are dealing with small children here who may or may not understand how to—what the protocols are—and based on the best observations that we can make we will try to adjust things so that we can keep kids safe and everything can run smoothly according to plan.”
Marana operates splash pads at Heritage River Park, 12280 N. Heritage Park Drive, and Crossroads at Silverbell District Park, 7458 N. Silverbell Road. There is also a public pool at Ora Mae Harn District Park, 12350 N. Lon Adams Road.
Recreation amenities like splash pads were closed as part of Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-home order in April, which shuttered basketball courts, splash pads, playgrounds and restrooms in public parks.
At the council meeting, town council members and Mayor Ed Honea urged Mehta and Parks and Recreation Director Jim Conroy to reopen the facilities as soon as possible.
“It’s going to be 106 tomorrow and 109 Thursday,” Honea said. “A lot of youngsters out there want to play on these splash pads...I would suggest that if you support opening the splash pads now, or as quickly as possible, that you make yourself known to the staff.”
Councilmember Roxanne Ziegler was more direct in her request of staff: “Open the damn splash pad.”
“Those that don’t want to go to the splash pad, folks that think it’s not time or ready and feel uncomfortable taking their children there, you don’t have to go and we would certainly understand that,” Ziegler said. “It’s just like watching TV, if you don’t like what you see, turn it off and watch another channel.”
Councilmember Patti Comerford believes Marana staff are more than ready to reopen its facilities and handle safety procedures if they believe now is the right time to do so.
“This pandemic has never before happened, but I have 100 percent faith in or recreation people that they’re able to do it,” Comerford said. “If they say ‘Go’ and think they can handle it, I think that we oughta respect that and move forward.”
Parks director Conroy has remained in communications with counterparts across the state in order to develop guidelines for reopening amenities. He said one of the wonderful things about his profession is that parks and recreation directors are never in a silo—they’re always collaborating and coming to one another for advice and feedback.
On one of his most recent calls, Conroy said he was speaking with roughly 18 different departments exclusively about reopening water facilities. The group discussed having protocols in place, installing clear signage and performing spot checks and cleanings.
According to Conroy, an important factor moving forward will be personal responsibility—but he’s not worried about Marana.
“Our population here in Marana have demonstrated a lot of common sense,” Conroy said. “We have not had one incident at a playground or ball field...We haven’t gotten one complaint. There’s things that we’ve done, and we have signs all over about social spacing. Our clientele has behaved extremely well over the last two months. Truthfully, we’re confident that with the right signage and language in instruction at the splash pads and at the pool—I think we’re going to see good behavior.”
Marana follows a phased approach, Mehta said, with plans to open the splash pads this Saturday. Ora Mae Park and the swimming pool is expected to reopen June 15 after construction wraps up.
“We might be one of the very few pools in the region which might allow for community swims, not just lap swims,” Mehta said.
According to the CDC’s “Considerations for Aquatic Venues,” local governments, apartment complexes, schools, waterparks and homeowners’ associations have a variety of options to consider when reopening public aquatic amenities.
Operators are encouraged to promote “behaviors that prevent the spread of COVID-19, including hand hygiene and covering coughs, using face coverings when not in water and staying home if you’re sick or potentially exposed to COVID-19. To maintain healthy environments, the CDC suggests regular cleaning and disinfecting, setting up signage, checking water and ventilation systems, modifying layouts and limiting the use of shared objects.
The CDC’s guidelines state attendees to any water parks avoid groups and maintain six feet of distance, and comply with staggered drop-off and pickup times for their children.
According to Conroy, the department is planning a test run Friday morning to make sure everything at the splash pads works as expected—and check the water chemistry. If all goes as planned, it’s open gates Saturday morning.
Attendees will be asked to practice social distancing whenever possible, and not to wear masks while in around the water to avoid possible health risks.
Update 6/5: Splash pads will reopen at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 6.