Mayor, Parks Superintendent discuss closing splash pad, suspending SPARKS program

Mayor Richard Strick and Parks Superintendent Steve Yoder recently discussed decisions to close the Drover Park Splash Pad and suspend the summer youth activities program known as SPARKS with Joey Tackett of local news site “Huntington News Now.”

The interview was conducted Friday, May 15, using video conferencing software and was posted Tuesday, May 19, at www.facebook.com/huntingtonnewsnow.

On May 6 the Huntington Parks and Recreation Department announced on social media that the splash pad and SPARKS program would not be available this year.

Yoder and Mayor Strick spoke to the reasoning behind those decisions in the interview.

“With the splash pad decision, one of the things that I think it’s helpful for people to understand is that we’re as disappointed as they are in this decision,” Mayor Strick said. “The reality is we are dealing with a public health emergency” that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb declared on March 6.

The key factors behind the closure of the splash pad come down to staffing, cleaning and monitoring the facility to implement state requirements for social distancing.

To meet these directives, including operating at a lower capacity and disinfecting shared surfaces between each use, the city found it would be necessary for the Parks Department to station an employee at the splash pad during all hours of operation.

The state mandates such facilities open no sooner than June 14. From then through July 3 a city may choose to operate them at 50 percent capacity. On July 4 and beyond they may be fully open, but the requirement to enforce social distancing remains in place.

With only five employees who are responsible for 300 acres of city parks, the city recognized it could not ensure the safe operation of the splash pad facility and made the difficult decision to keep it closed.

A city response team consisting of Mayor Strick, Police Chief Chad Hacker, Director of Operations Annette Carroll and Fire Chief Tony Johnson also factored into the decision information from health professionals, human resources specialists, local elected officials and the Huntington County Health Department.

 “As we looked at that and weighted the disappointment in the community against our duty and obligation to look out for public health and safety, ultimately that’s what led us to that decision,” Mayor Strick said.

The Summer SPARKS program decision similarly was influenced by public health and staffing concerns.

In all there were too many unknowns, Yoder said. Examples he provided included:

  • A requirement to limit the number of participants to meet social distancing guidelines.
  • An unknown number of children participating due to schools, where sign-up typically occurs, being shut down.
  • An inability to hire and train necessary staff and directors due to the pandemic.
  • Uncertainty among businesses and organizations the city works with to provide the program.

The City of Huntington would not be “able to provide the same quality of program that has been provided in the past due to the unknown of other businesses that we depend on, such as transportation providers, field trip destinations, the lunches that are provided by the schools – there are a lot of unknowns,” Yoder said.

VIDEO OUTLINE (Watch at www.facebook.com/huntingtonnewsnow)
Jump to time noted for specific topic.

  • 1:01 - Mayor Strick on decision process for closing splash pad
  • 4:40 - Parks Superintendent Steve Yoder on decision process for suspending SPARKS program
  • 7:01 - Mayor Strick on who is accountable for these decisions
  • 8:26 - Mayor Strick on timing of announcement in advance of Memorial Day weekend
  • 9:57 - Mayor Strick on how water used at splash pad is paid for
  • 12:55 - Mayor Strick on how other communities may take a different approach and how staffing levels and added requirements have influenced decisions
  • 15:29 - Steve Yoder on reopening parks facilities including playgrounds, basketball courts and tennis courts
  • 17:37 - Mayor Strick on obligation to follow governor’s executive orders
  • 17:54 - Steve Yoder on indoor versus outdoor facilities
  • 20:04 - Steve Yoder on alternative youth activities for the summer with SPARKS canceled
  • 24:42 - Mayor Strick on how local and state government guidelines overlap and the importance of wearing masks to protect others
  • 30:39 - Mayor Strick on plans in place in case of spike of cases in Huntington

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