The Student Recreation Center and outdoor pool at Stephen F. Austin State University reopens today, operating under strict new guidelines that meet or exceed the minimum standard health protocols set forth by state health authorities.

The safety measures include reducing occupancy to 25%, maintaining at least 6 feet of space between all patrons and staff members, increasing equipment cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day, and instituting a no-contact check-in process. The locker rooms’ changing and showering areas will be closed, and patrons will be strongly encouraged to wear masks and gloves.

At the pool, water sanitation will be maintained, and equipment such as kickboards and water weights will not be available. Only one person per lane will be permitted during lap swim, and group size may not exceed the number of individuals within a household or a maximum of five people arriving together. A complete listing of the center’s COVID-19 response policies can be viewed online.

“We have done our very best to provide a safe environment for our patrons and staff while mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our facility,” said Ken Morton, director of campus recreation at SFA. “We are asking everyone to please take seriously these safety precautions we have put in place, which will allow us to fulfill our mission of promoting Lumberjack wellness while prioritizing the health of our patrons, as well as our staff.”

The Rec Center suspended operations March 17 as SFA initiated a general campus closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 5, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas gyms would be allowed to reopen Monday with approved minimum standard health protocols in place.

Rec Center members were contacted this week about the plans for reopening and the new health and safety measures being put into place. According to Ben Telesca, assistant director of campus recreation for facilities and member services, the response to the news has been overwhelmingly positive. “Lots of people have been in contact with us already, and they seem very excited to be returning to work out with us beginning next week.”

Morton said the facility’s large size made it relatively easy to accommodate new social distancing requirements. For example, one of the gyms has been taken offline so that some individual exercise machines could be moved in and more space created throughout the building.

“We are blessed to have a facility with plenty of space that allows us to move things around and create additional workout spaces to maintain needed social distancing,” he said.

Dr. Janice Ledet, director of university health services, and Dr. Jeremy Higgins, director of environmental health, safety and risk management at SFA, are helping lead the newly created “Open SFA Task Force” and are responsible for vetting and approving plans to reopen campus facilities. They recently toured the Student Recreation Center with members of the campus recreation staff and have carefully reviewed the facility’s new policies.

“Ken and his staff have gone above and beyond the minimum standard health protocols required by the governor, and their facility is in pristine condition,” Ledet said. “I have every confidence they are doing exactly what they should be doing at this point in time to keep themselves safe, as well as their patrons.”

The Rec Center is the first SFA facility to officially reopen, and Higgins said its plan will likely serve as a model for other campus spaces to follow.

“Certainly, the Rec Center has met all of the state’s requirements and even gone beyond the minimums in many cases,” he said. “I would never advise the public to go anywhere I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my own family, and I would definitely feel comfortable with my family using the Rec Center and pool.”

The Rec Center will have reduced operating hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday with the first hour of each weekday reserved for high-risk patrons. Weekend hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The pool and courtyard will be open from 1 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.

“While we are taking the COVID-19 pandemic extremely seriously and doing all we can to lower the risk of spreading the virus, we are also very happy to have taken the necessary steps to now be able to offer our services again,” Morton said.

“We know there is a very strong correlation between exercise and overall wellness and mental health,” Morton said. “It also provides a boost to our immune system and can be a great stress reliever. These are things that benefit all of us, especially during an unprecedented time such as this.”

Rec Center membership is open to SFA students, as well as members of the faculty, staff and SFA Alumni Association. For more information, contact the SFA Campus Recreation Department at (936) 468-3507 or campusrec@sfasu.edu or visit sfasu.edu/campusrec.

-Courtesy of the Stephen F. Austin State University News and Media Center.