The Rec Center opened its doors on June 1 to a modified schedule, but plans to expand openings continue.
The coronavirus pandemic stopped almost everything in its tracks. When Texas Tech University decided to close its campus, it meant everything closed, including the Robert H. Ewalt Student Recreation Center.
However, things have slowly started to reopen in the state of Texas, so long as businesses follow strict guidelines laid out by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. So, when Eric Maki, managing director of recreational sports at the Rec Center, received the call that the facilities could open on June 1, he and the entire Rec Center staff were ready.
"We've been working on our reopening plan since about two days after we closed," Maki said. "We were already having discussions before we all left campus, and those discussions continued through Zoom and other formats. We talked about what we would look like when we come back, not knowing the initial 25% capacity limit. How would we execute it to bring back that community sense of health, fitness and wellness?
"I tell people, most of the good things you might see when you walk in this facility probably started with a conversation from somebody else at another university. All of it had something to do with conversations with colleagues from state of Texas, the Big 12 Conference or in the region as to what they were doing."
Occupancy limits and reservations
When the Rec Center opened on June 1, there was a 25% occupancy limit, not including staff. Just two days later, on June 3, Abbott allowed for 50% capacity of the facilities.
"At 50% capacity, we can have about 400 individuals in the Rec Center at one time," Maki said.
One thing the Rec Center is asking members to do is make reservations online for a designated workout time. Reservations are for 1 hour and 45 minutes, though Jared McCauley, program director of intramurals/sports clubs, said they aren't limiting members' times.
"At this juncture, we are not limiting the amount of time someone has in the Rec Center," he said. "We're seeing about 20% of no-shows for reservations. So, we feel like we're never going to hit the capacity number that causes a problem because the reservation is 1 hour and 45 minutes long. We're also seeing a lot of people leave after an hour. We take walk-up reservations, as well.
"Basically, everybody who comes into the facility, we either had a reservation for previously or we make one physically at the door. We're still seeing some no-shows. It's making us feel OK about our capacity."
Currently, guest passes are not available to ensure members can utilize the facilities first, Maki said.
Hours of operation and sanitization
Some people may hesitate to come back to gyms or businesses out of concern about a lack of social distancing and sanitization. Maki guarantees that is something no Rec Center member needs to worry about.
"We've added 50 hand-sanitizing stations that we encourage people to utilize before, during and after their workouts," he said. "We redesigned all of our fitness activity spaces to ensure people can still get a positive workout but have it done in an environment that promotes health."
To make sure the Rec Center stays as sanitized as possible, the hours of operation have been adjusted. Hours Monday through Friday are from 6-10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.
The 90-minute gap on weekdays is intentional.
"The closure in the middle of the day is an opportunity for our staff to give an additional cleaning to all equipment that individuals may have used," Maki said. "This ensures that we're sanitizing things with all the right protocols by Texas Tech's Operations Division and other vendors we work with to ensure the facility is sanitized, clean and prepared for people to use properly."
In fact, McCauley said they've hired additional staff simply to maintain and exceed all sanitization processes required.
"We're being conservative with our operation hours right now because we're also staying later to clean," McCauley said. "Our staff is actually here longer than the building is open. We added additional staff because every area has its own capacity limit that can be in that space. We put a staff member there who's not only cleaning, but also maintaining that capacity. So, anyone who walks in is going to see a lot more staff than they've seen before."
All staff members also go through a health screening before beginning their shifts to ensure a healthy environment.
The Rec Center's sanitization process is more sophisticated than spraying Lysol in the air, too.
"One of the key aspects of everything that we clean now is really focusing our students, staff and custodians on what are referred to as 'high-touch points,'" Maki said. "We have an electromagnetic sanitation machine. During the 90-minute closure, we utilize that piece of equipment to hit a lot of the difficult, high-touch points: barbells, dumbbells, handrails, railings, countertops, doors, door handles. It has a solution that is able to evaporate all types of different bacteria in these really hard-to-get-to high-touch points in 10 minutes.
"Certainly, our students and staff are then supplementing that work by hitting a lot of the larger pieces of equipment such as treadmills, ellipticals benches, things that are easier to clean and aren't as difficult to try and get into to remove those bacteria."
Leisure pool and splashpad
The leisure pool, splashpad and lazy river are all currently closed, but plans to reopen those areas also are underway.
"The leisure pool reopening is what we term 'stage three,'" Maki said. "We have the leisure pool currently scheduled to open on June 29 with the understanding that things still can change. We're still evolving. The leisure pool will be under significant modification for fitness or lap swimming. At this time, because of both the combination of American Red Cross, exercise expectations and physical distancing, the lazy river and the splashpad will not be open."
Though the lazy river and splashpad won't open on June 29, there's still hope that they will open in the fall, Maki said.
Starting Monday (June 15) the Rec Center is officially moving to "stage two" of their reopening process.
"Stage two means we welcome back folks who want to do some bouldering on the climbing wall," Maki said. "We welcome back people who want to get into CrossFit or any of our group fitness classes that we'll be offering, personal training. We've put together a variety of packages, whether it's all virtual or whether it's a blend of in-person and virtual.
"Locker rooms also will reopen and people will be able to rent equipment from the Outdoor Pursuits Center. If you want to do your own outdoor adventure program, you can rent equipment from us once again."
Scott Layher, assistant director of Marketing & Information Technology at the Rec Center, said there is one thing that hasn't changed during this time.
"What hasn't changed in the process is that you can still get a full workout," he said. "We have a lot of pieces of cardio equipment, the weight rooms are open. Even though things feel different and they look different, members are still able to get a complete workout here during this time."