Owen Sound intends to reopen the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre’s upper concourse for walking in early December, but with procedures aimed at safeguarding the field hospital on the arena’s floor and other pandemic-related health and safety protocols in place.
Council directed staff Monday to implement the modified walking program after learning that a group of 12 local businesses and businesspeople, co-ordinated by and including Doug Bumstead of Bumstead Insurance & Financial, had offered to cover most of the associated additional city costs for security and staffing.
Mayor Ian Boddy said the donation helped to sway his vote in support of reopening the walking track.
“I think this is the right thing to do and with (this donation), that kind of tips it. It allows us to get security in there, get it cleaned, et cetera, to maintain it without dipping into what may result in a deficit” for the city, he said during the meeting.
Boddy said he was initially leaning towards keeping the concourse closed and encouraging people to instead walk at Heritage Place mall.
Council voted to accept the donation of up to $4,000 a month for the next four months and direct staff to consult with Grey Bruce Health Services and public health to implement the appropriate staffing, screening and health and safety protocols to reopen the concourse to walkers, with a target of early December.
Bernice Ackermann, who urged council in a letter to reopen the concourse, said while she’s glad walking will soon resume at the Lumley-Bayshore, she’s concerned the rules for the modified program will mean some people won’t be able to participate.
The city’s proposed program includes three time slots, Mondays to Fridays, for walking. They are: 8:20 to 9:30 a.m.; 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.; and noon to 1 p.m. Registration is required and will be limited to start to 20 walkers per time slot.
Ackermann said before the concourse closed, “easily” more than 100 people would walk the track daily.
“I regret that there will be people that will want to walk that won’t be able to if they don’t register early,” she said. “And they’re limiting it to just mornings.”
The concourse – which has become a popular walking track, especially among seniors – was closed to the public at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March.
In April, GBHS set up the field hospital after a provincial mandate directed communities to make efforts to maximize their capacity. So far, it hasn’t been needed by patients.
Council voted last month to allow GBHS to continue using the arena floor for the field hospital until at least December due to the current status of the pandemic. City officials are to revisit the issue early next month.
Owen Sound’s community services committee supported in October a staff recommendation to advise council to keep the concourse closed until at least January at which time staff would revisit the decision in consultation with public health and facilities staff.
The committee heard Bayshore staff are working at the Julie McArthur Regional Recreation Centre to help with cleaning and the increased use of the ice pads there since the ice at the Bayshore is not available. Part-time facilities staff are still laid off.
At its Nov. 2 meeting, council opted not to approve the committee’s recommendation but directed staff to present a report on ways the city could reopen the concourse to walkers while the field hospital is in place.
Coun. Richard Thomas, who moved the motion, noted the mental and physical health benefits of reopening the space to walkers, especially at this time of isolation because of the pandemic and with winter on its way.
Community services director Pam Coulter, in a report council received Monday, said maintaining the safety and security of the 75-bed field hospital must be an important consideration if council decides to develop a walking program for the concourse.
Registration and security is required to control access, professional security would monitor the space during use, a COVID-19 safety plan is needed and current staffing levels must be augmented, the report said.
Added monthly costs for staffing and security were pegged at $4,700 and $6,500.
Coulter said Bumstead contacted the city Monday with the offer to cover $4,000 of those costs over the next four months.
“It’s certainly an extraordinary offer and it represents the generous spirit of this community,” she said.
Costs above that amount will be covered by Lumley-Bayshore’s operating budget.
The modified walking program that Coulter presented to council will require walkers to book a time slot online or by calling city hall, arrive 10 minutes before their time slot to be screened and checked in by staff and wear a face mask and clean shoes. The concourse will be disinfected between each time slot and there will be no access to the stairs; only the elevator.
Coulter said the city will have to amend its agreement with GBHS in terms of exclusivity of the facility, insurance and liability.
Council directed staff to monitor use patterns of the modified program and any concerns and present that information to council in January.
The city will suspend the walking program if the field hospital is needed for patients.