Officials looking at whether it makes sense to keep City of Edmonton rec centres open

While Edmonton officials welcomed stronger COVID-19 measures from the province, the tighter restrictions mean the city will have to re-examine if it’s cost-effective to keep recreation facilities open.

The province banned group fitness activities and amateur team sports (with some exceptions) on Nov. 12. Gyms and rec centres could remain open for individuals to exercise alone.

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Then, on Nov. 24, Premier Jason Kenney announced more restrictions to help bend the curve as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to rise in the province.

Among them, a new limit for businesses, including fitness centres, studios and gyms, which now have to cap capacity at 25 per cent of their maximum allowed by fire code. These rules are in place for at least three weeks.

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Both Edmonton and Calgary mayors have been calling on the province to bring in stronger measures as cases rise and the health-care system is put under increasing pressure.

Mayor Don Iveson welcomed the province’s new rules Tuesday.

“It is a relief to see the province take a metropolitan approach to tackling COVID-19,” he said Wednesday.

“Without a regional approach… Alberta just will not be able to curb the spread in our large centres.”

He praised the measure of making masks mandatory in all indoor work settings, explaining a consistent rule across the province is more clear and can be more firmly enforced.

When asked if the 25 per cent capacity limit means it will be too expensive to keep city-run fitness centres open and operational, Edmonton’s interim manager said administration will have to take a closer look at the numbers.

“That is precisely what we’re evaluating,” Adam Laughlin said.

“We’re not yet at a point to be able to determine whether we’d be considering closure.”

The next Emergency Advisory Committee of Council meeting is set for Friday. Laughlin hopes to have more information at that time.

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“As these restrictions have come into place, there is a consideration of the cost effectiveness. There is also a consideration of physical health and the mental health. And if done properly, we can still offer that service,” he said.

“So it’s a bit of a balance of the cost associated with the benefit provided by offering these services.”

Laughlin explained that overall, city-run facilities like rec centres and libraries have been seeing fewer people anyway.

“We believe that the attendance restrictions, based on the new measures put in place, are manageable on the basis of how we’re currently operating our facilities. Meaning, based on the size of the facilities and the programs being offered… some of them will stop we feel like we’re under that capacity threshold that’s been included in these provincial measures.”

Iveson said Edmonton Public Library is running at about 20 per cent capacity right now.

“They’re actually able to carry on with roughly what they have been doing within these new restrictions,” he said.

“And I want to acknowledge that public spaces like the library and like civic recreation centres are very important places for people who have nowhere else to go.

“The loss of those facilities during the earlier stage of this pandemic was very deeply felt by patrons of those facilities who depend on them for a sense of community and support and the staff who love to serve them,” Iveson said.

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“I think we’ll be able to manage those restrictions while keeping people safe.”

Edmonton rec centres were closed on March 14 and started reopening with safety measures in place July 6.

As of Wednesday, the City of Edmonton is not recommending that a State of Local Emergency be enacted, but it will continue to monitor the situation and make that recommendation if necessary.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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