Parks and Rec plans to reopen additional facilities

The county Department of Parks and Recreation is gradually returning to normal operations after a year of COVID-19 restrictions.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Hawaii County Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety, Parks and Rec Director Maurice Messina briefed council members about the department’s plans to safely reopen more facilities.

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Outdoor facilities, Messina said, are once again open, and an order signed by Mayor Mitch Roth earlier this month allowed outdoor gatherings — including team sports — to increase from 10 to 25 people.

Because of this increase, Messina said sports games can now involve up to 50 people — 25 per team — but each team is required to submit a COVID plan to the department in order to ensure all participants are taking sufficient precautions.

However, Messina said that Roth still thinks that contact sports are still too much of a COVID risk, and will not be allowed to resume in the near future.

Parks and Recreation intends to reopen three indoor facilities soon, Messina said. Gyms at Panaewa Park, Pahoa District Park and Waimea District Park have enclosed roofs but open sides, which he said provides sufficient ventilation for them to be safely used.

Reopening the gyms will be important to resume the department’s fitness programs for seniors, Messina said, as wholly outdoor facilities are unsuitable for some senior programs such as tai chi or pickleball. The department is tentatively hoping to resume those programs next month.

“It’s important that we get the seniors back into these programs as soon as possible,” Messina said, lamenting the impacts of the pandemic on the county’s elderly.

Messina said Parks and Recreation staff will meet with Roth next week to discuss further plans for reopening, including how the county will handle graduation ceremonies in May. Messina said the department has received several requests already to reserve facilities for graduations.

Committee members were largely pleased with Messina’s presentation, although Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder urged Messina to expedite the reopening of the Volcano Skate Park and other skate facilities.

Messina said the Volcano park will have to be inspected directly to ensure it doesn’t pose a health hazard after reports of squatters breaking into the enclosed pavilion.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards encouraged Messina to figure out how much money his department might need to reopen more facilities more quickly, explaining that more funds might be available through the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill signed by President Joe Biden a week ago. Richards suggested that he could directly ask Sen. Brian Schatz about available funds during a meeting later Wednesday (see related story on A1).

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Messina said he has considered several possible sums, but did not disclose them Wednesday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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