Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Department is hoping to do some strategic planning for the future of borough owned recreation facilities and programs. That was one message from staff who updated community members this week on changes and challenges facing the department this year.

The department had been planning to implement a new policy this fall prohibiting unattended minors 10 and under at open swim and open gym at the community center. That change prompted push back from parents who asked Parks and Rec to try other measures first to improve kids’ safety. Director Chandra Thornburg said the department will keep the status quo, a rule that says “parents are responsible for the behavior and supervision of their children.” She explained the approach to the age limit at a community meeting this month.

“There’s different ideas of what should be a cutoff, what shouldn’t be a cutoff and the previous rule that was stated was that all young children must be supervised by an adult, we’re going to keep that rule in place,” Thornburg said. “All children are welcome to be here as long as they’re checking in at the front desk and they’re going to be going back and forth. And the staff have the ability to talk with, work with us, work with the parents and figure out, dependent on each child if this is working, if this isn’t working.”

To that end Parks and Rec implemented a new discipline policy modeled on one used in the middle school. Bad behavior can lead to a call to parents, or being kicked out of the community center. The department says it’s also following through on other parent suggestions. Employees are wearing new uniforms and ID badges have been ordered, so kids know who to approach if there’s a problem. Employees are now going through a more formalized national background check. The old system relied on the local police department for that check. Thornburg told parents that they’re keeping track of hallway checks by staff, installing more security cameras and alarms on exit doors.

The department still has a staffing issue. They’ve advertised for and have been unable to fill a custodian’s job. Until that’s filled Parks and Rec is contracting to have floors cleaned.

And there’s still a lack of life guards on the pay roll, with openings for eight part time positions. Thornburg told the group that the lack of life guards could mean closures.

“So the way we’re currently running is to have a life guard on the pool deck and our front desk staffer life guard certified,” she said. “So we would like to have two life guards on the pool deck so we can have the slide running and the pool open and have the front desk fully staffed. So we’re running on bare bones. (Facility supervisor Stephanie Payne) and I are switching around our schedules. Like she’s closing tonight because our other staff work Tuesday through Saturday. And we’re doing as much as possible to keep everything open but if one person calls out sick then we’re going to have close the swim.”

She told the gathering the department is open to ideas about scheduling. For instance, there’s a new after school time from 2:45-3:30 p.m. when kids are welcome to come play. The department is looking for someone to lead an afterschool program during that time. The pool is open at 6 a.m. now and there are many open times for the fitness room and activity room throughout the week.

Overall Thornburg said the goal was to do some strategic planning for the department, including public input on what programs and events important to continue.

“The point of all of these questions is really to start us off on are we going on the path that you want us to go on for the future of Parks and Rec?” she explained. “Is there another question that you would like us to think about and consider and if when we’re sending out more surveys to the community, we’re going to use these as guiding thoughts, with our strategic planning partner.”

Staffers asked community members to put stars on programming that was important to continue and ideas for possible new facilities including trails and other outdoor recreation.

(Photo courtesy of Park and Recreation)

It’s the kind of feedback that an advisory board gave staff in the past, but that board was ended in 2014. The borough assembly is in the process of erasing it from local law this fall. Thornburg said she’s welcome restarting it if there is interest. Meanwhile, Thornburg said a separate group, the Friends of Parks and Recreation, is no longer meeting this year after struggling to find a time to meet. That group focused more on improvement projects instead of programming and policy decisions.

Here’s a borough report call-in show with Thornburg recorded last month.