Evart splash pad to open soon 

Other city amenities to remain closed

EVART -- The Evart splash could be opening soon. Evart City Council voted to approve the opening on the condition the plan is reviewed and approved by local health officials at its meeting June 15.

City manager Sarah Dvoracek said that with council's approval, and the approval of local health officials, Jeremy Beebe and Mark Watkins, the splash could possibly be opened in two weeks.

"According to the (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's) executive orders, we have to follow what our local health department officials state for safety requirements," Dvoracek said. "That would be Jeremy Beebe, who is our dedicated county safety official and Mark Watkins, who is our county emergency management director.

"They have both agreed to review the opening plan, and once we have their approval, we can order the necessary signage and safety equipment and get the splash pad opened up."

According to Dvoracek, opening the splash pad will require some additional safety measures, including posting safety precaution signs, providing personal protection equipment for workers, and routine daily cleaning of the facility.

In addition, with the restrooms remaining closed to the public, a port-a-john will be installed for use at the splash pad, she said.

"We are set to reopen with safety precautions in place," Dvoracek said. "There will be restrictions on numbers, and water rules in place. Hopefully we can get approval and open in a couple of weeks. It will cost us about $2,000 to open it, but I think it is worth it."

When opened, the splash pad will be available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily.

During the meeting, the city council voted to keep the campgrounds closed for the remainder of the season, except for primitive camping.

"After talking with Mark Watkins, I don't see how it is feasible for us to open the campgrounds this year," Dvoracek said. "The CDC is advising against opening campgrounds. With all the safety requirements, including screening every person that enters the campground, having a contact tracing plan in place, and the necessary cleaning routine for public restrooms, I feel like we are opening ourselves up to unnecessary liabilities if we were to open them.

"We do not currently have a host lined up because of the COVID-19 restrictions, and even with all the safety guidelines in place, I don't think it is a good idea, since the CDC has said public restrooms are the number one breeding ground for the virus," she added.

Dvoracek recommended to the council that all current reservations for Riverside West campground be cancelled for the year, and that only primitive camping be allowed at Riverside East, with a port-a-john and water available, but no showers open.

"Trying to open the campground at this point would likely be a losing endeavor," Council member Mark Hildebrand said. "For this season, we might as well save the park host money, and just allow the primitive camping."

The city is planning a phased reopening for additional city amenities and city offices.

For now, all public restrooms will remain closed. Port-a-johns will be available for the Farmers' Market, the splash pad and Riverside East.

The pavilions will be open for day use on a first come first serve basis.

No reservations will be taken. Restroom facilities will not be available.

Playground equipment will be opened, once proper signage reflecting safety guidelines is in place.

The community room at the depot will remain closed to the public.

Dvoracek said she has received requests from the Downtown Development Authority and from Osceola County Commissioner Roger Elkins regarding the use of the community room for meetings.

"We could open the room, but require that whoever is using it have a preapproved safety plan in place for how they will social distance," Dvoracek said.

Whitmer's executive orders still limit indoor gatherings to 10 or fewer, with social distancing in place.

"I would say that falls in line with the other city amenities that will remain closed," Hildebrand said. "If we are not going to have our city council meetings there, I don't think we should allow other meetings there. A larger space like the fairgrounds building would probably be easier to control as far as the social distancing restrictions."

The board agreed the community room should remain closed to the public.

Currently City Hall is opened to the public, however, visitors are met at the door and business is handled there whenever possible, Dvoracek said.

"We have the public come to the foyer and ring the bell, and we assist them at the door," she said. "If someone needs to meet with a staff member, they are allowed to come in and do that."

Other city offices, including public works and the police department will continue to work with the public by appointment only.

City Council will continue to meet virtually until further notice.

June 30 is the last day of the executive order allowing for virtual meetings, but Watkins expects that to be extended, possibly through August, Dvoracek said.

Hildebrand said he would like for them to continue to work on a safety plan so that they could resume city council meetings in person, but would like to be able to continue to offer the virtual access for those who want it.

"I would like to be able to broadcast the meetings live to allow the public to participate in a way that they feel comfortable and safe doing," he said.

The council will continue to evaluate the reopening plan as things change with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.