Johnson City kept parks projects going during COVID-19 | News

During its first week back open, the Memorial Park Community Center saw an average of 160 people come through its doors per day.

“While that number’s not gigantic, it’s still pretty large considering that a lot of the programming still has not been implemented,” said Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis.

The Memorial Park Community Center, the Langston Centre and the Carver Recreation Center reopened on April 12 with a series of precautions in place against COVID-19.

The facilities are operating on reduced hours, and city staff are enforcing social distancing and mask wearing.

Ellis said the city is hopeful that it can move to a phase two of its reopening plan, but staff are staying mindful of some of the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases across the region.

“That’s a little concerning, but we’re ensuring the safety of everyone and we’re trying give as many folks the opportunity to participate as possible,” Ellis said.

At Memorial Park, the city is allowing people to swim laps, use the facility’s therapy pool and its fitness rooms. Pickleball is booming, and visitors are also able to enroll in fitness classes and use the billiards room.

Although the pandemic forced Johnson City to close its recreational facilities, Ellis said that if there’s a silver lining, it did allow the city to catch up on a bunch of work.

The city also found ways to keep its parks staff busy. The department reassigned about two-thirds of its total employees to do various projects and work across the organization.

That included providing custodial services at City Hall and the Juvenile Court and assisting the city’s facilities maintenance division and motor transport division with staffing.

“We kept them all working, and we made a lot of much-needed improvements,” Ellis said.

The city also has made progress on a litany of projects, including the construction of a restroom at the Rotary Park playground and a splash pad. They also plan to construct a restroom between the playground and the new splash pad at Carver Recreation Center, which is itself getting ready for a major facelift.

The building will get a new coat of paint, and crews will also replace guttering and enhance the facility’s garden. The splash pad at Carver is scheduled to open to the public on Memorial Day weekend.

Last year, the city received a Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthy Places grant totaling $750,000.

Of that allotment, $150,000 is earmarked for 10 years of maintenance and $600,000 will help construct a play area at Kiwanis Park on Market Street. Exercise stations, a covered pavilion, a swing set and two children’s play areas will be 100% covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield donations.

As part of this project, the city will demolish the old bandstand that has been in the park for decades, which Ellis said is now in rough shape. The city will build new permanent restrooms in its place.

The city also recently refurbished the Native American statue at Metro-Kiwanis Park, which was initially sculpted a few decades ago.

Youth athletic programs, including softball, soccer and t-ball, are scheduled to start in April. The city has almost 1,100 kids playing in its youth soccer program, which is close to the figure the city has seen in prior years. Additionally, about 40 adult softball teams have registered for the upcoming season.

The city is also looking at starting a pickleball camp for kids because of the surge in popularity of the sport.

“All in all, we’ve got a lot going on,” Ellis said. “We’re not back at 100% operational mode yet, but we do have quite a bit of programming that we’ve started.”

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