Responding to correspondences from local residents, Peters Township Council members have decided to reinstitute open gym hours at the Community Recreation Center.
The reopening will be temporary, though. Starting Feb. 22, half of the gymnasium is to be used by Washington Health System to administer vaccines against COVID-19, and preparation of the site is expected to begin the week prior.
“The organized youth basketball program is going to have to alter its schedule, which will mean that the times that normally would be reserved for open gym will no longer exist, anyhow, because that space won’t be available inside the building,” township manager Paul Lauer explained at council’s Jan. 25 meeting.
Open gym, scheduled for two nights a week, had been suspended primarily because some participants refused to wear face coverings. The state requires people to wear masks when “participating in indoor physical activity in a gym, fitness center or group fitness classes, where another person or persons who are not members of the individual’s household are present in the same space, irrespective of physical distance.”
Lauer said he spoke with a parks and recreation department employee who told him participants – many of whom are high school or college age, or older – often ignore requests by staff members to don masks.
“I think that’s not reasonable, to have the expectation that they’re going to enforce a rule that people are going to argue with them and defy,” Lauer told council. “We have tried to educate. We have placed signs. We have told people as they come in their need for the mask, and we haven’t been able to resolve this.”
The consensus among council members was for open gym to be hosted again, at least for the time being.
“It just doesn’t seem right that we try to legislate for the few who don’t want to follow the rules,” Councilman Jim Berquist said.
He and some of his colleagues suggested taking the measure of calling the police if the mask rule is not followed.
Lauer, though, recalled a conversation early in the COVID-19 pandemic with police Chief Douglas Grimes.
“When it became the direction from the Pennsylvania Department of Health that people wear masks indoor, the question that Chief Grimes asked is, ‘Do you really want the police department out enforcing mask mandates?’” Lauer said.
“And the answer was clearly no, because I think, given people’s reactions to wearing masks – still, for many people – is a lot of objection,” he continued. “If you want for the next couple of weeks to open up open gym, and you want the police to enforce that, I think you’re going to create a bigger problem than what we have.”
In an effort to avoid problems, signs are being posted at the Community Recreation Center reminding members of the face covering rule and warning that, if it is not followed, law enforcement could become involved.