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Daily Journal
     May 19, 2020      #13-140 KDJ

Splash Valley won't open this summer 

Chris Breach

KANKAKEE — When the Kankakee Valley Park District broke ground on the renovation of Splash Valley Aquatic Park this past November, it had no idea a global pandemic would impact its reopening.

Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the health concerns surrounding it have forced KVPD’s board to suspend the opening of Splash Valley. By a vote of 4-1, the board suspended the 2020 season even before it could start.

“I’m crushed,” said Dayna Heitz, KVPD executive director. “It’s something that we wanted to do since [the renovation] started. It was finally here, and COVID hit.”

Heitz said the district had to look at so many different aspects.

“Our top concerns are the safety of our patrons and staff, and how to provide an aquatic experience this summer without compromising the health, safety and well-being of all,” the board posted on its Facebook page on Friday. “As of [May 15], neither the Illinois Department of Public Health nor the governor has given direction on how pools will be impacted this summer or a timeline as to when we can expect the lifting of pool restrictions.”

Heitz said the renovations are projected to be completed by June 16, which would’ve given patrons a couple months of cooling off at Splash Valley during the summer’s hottest months.

“We’re still on target,” she said. “We will have to go ahead and open it and have a walk-through [with the contractor] and take possession.”

A June 16 completion date is pending should there be no setbacks due to weather or unforeseen construction issues, with latest date of completion set for July 1.

Required licensing by the Illinois Department of Public Health was also problematic with Splash Valley still under construction.The IDPH stated it wouldn’t do any licensing until Gov J.B. Pritzker’s March 21 stay-at-home order is lifted.

“Challenges and restrictions pose a problem for all aspects of aquatics,” read a statement from the parks department on the canceled season. “Decreased bather loads, patrons on deck, increase cleaning, no deck chairs, social distancing in lines (for the slides), concession or no concessions, limited locker room usage, 6 feet apart. We currently must comply with social distancing, size limitations and cleaning/disinfecting guidelines.

“Knowing that our work force will be significantly decreased due to health concerns and safety, as well as their position responsibilities go further than just life-threatening situations, now they must also focus their attention and eyes away from the water (their zone) to number of patrons in the facility and water, patrons on deck, social distancing issues, lines at the slides, continual and constant cleaning/sanitizing, etc.”

The IDPH hasn’t given any final guidelines for public pool operation, Heitz said, but it had discussed allowing facilities to operate at 25% capacity. For Splash Valley that would mean 339 people, including staff, would be allowed at the pool. It was also discussed that no deck chairs would be allowed. That just left too many obstacles to opening this summer.

“Can you operate at a 25% level?” Heitz said. “You can’t do it and be fully staffed. How do you do sanitizing and disinfecting throughout the pool? And that’s not talking the pool deck. What if a family of four shows up and we’re at 25% capacity? Would they wait around until they could go inside? How does it work?

With all the new restrictions the board said it wouldn’t haven enough lead time to conduct all the necessary training of staff to meet the maintenance standards to safely open Splash Valley.

“It is unclear how the Park District could open and comply with the strict limits on gatherings and other safety protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The decision of the Board of Commissioners was made in the best interest of the Park District and the community as a whole.”

Heitz said a week or two after the pool is completed and KVPD takes possession, it will do the required winterizing and close Splash Valley. It’s hopeful the pool will reopen Memorial Day weekend in 2021.

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