Shawnee tentatively planning to open Soetaert pool this summer under physical distancing guidelines

Shawnee announced today that it will not open either of its aquatic centers for the 2020 season. Staff had been looking at plans to offer limited access to the Soetaert Aquatic Center.

As of today, Shawnee is planning to open one of its two pools this summer under physical distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 safety measures.

In a presentation to the city council on Monday, Sean Keenan, aquatics manager, said the city lacks adequate staffing for both pools so city staff opted to consider only the Thomas A. Soetaert Aquatic Center for opening. City staff led the decision-making process, although City Manager Nolan Sunderman acknowledged that the situation is tentative and subject to change.

Soetaert can only open under three conditions:

  • The 6-foot distancing requirement must be waived so staff can conduct hands-on training (first aid, CPR, etc.)
  • Patrons and staff must maintain 6-foot distancing at the pool
  • Staff must follow regular cleaning and public health practices

While the COVID-19 situation is “evolving and fluid,” Keenan said, the tentative plan for the pool would involve the following:

  • Allow only Shawnee residents in and require pre-registration (no walk-ups allowed)
  • Temporarily discontinue pool memberships
  • Reduce daily admission
  • Consider daycare entry based on availability
  • Offer three 90-minute swim sessions Monday through Friday and two 90-minute swims sessions on Saturday and Sunday
  • Allow one hour of staff cleaning between swim sessions
  • Permanently place deck chairs 6 feet apart to assist with physical distancing
    • 30 deck chairs allowed in phase 2 (maximum 180 people)
    • 79 deck chairs allowed in phase 3 (maximum 474 people)

Keenan said at least one staff member would be on duty to ensure patrons maintain physical distancing.

Plus, Keenan said the city can open pools only if state and county authorities waive the 6-foot distancing requirement to allow lifeguard training. At this time, lifeguards cannot go through that training. If restrictions aren’t lifted by June 15, then the pool will be unable to open this summer.

As of Tuesday, Shawnee is one of three cities in Johnson County with tentative plans to open pools. Olathe and Lenexa have plans to open facilities as well.

Shawnee lists guidelines for pool patrons this summer

If Soetart pool reopens this summer, then deck chairs will be spaced 6 feet apart and patrons will be required to pre-register to attend. Photo courtesy city of Shawnee.

Keenan said the city plans to follow guidance from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention when possible.

COVID-19 safety measures include the following:

  • Maintain distancing and discourage gatherings between different groups of patrons
  • Exceptions to distancing include administering first aid, performing CPR and evacuating the aquatics facility in an emergency
  • Placing deck chairs 6 feet apart and allow only one chair per household
  • Encouraging the use of cloth face coverings as feasible
  • Advise those wearing face coverings to stop wearing them while in the water (close face coverings can be difficult to breathe through when wet)
  • Conduct daily health checks of staff (recognize signs and symptoms of the coronavirus)

The update was for informational purposes only, so some city councilmembers had concerns that they did not have more influence on decisions related to the city’s aquatics. Many of them wanted to see options instead of allowing city staff to take the lead. Meanwhile, Roeland Park and Prairie Village city councils weighed in on the decision about whether to open their aquatics facilities this summer.

“I think we need to be just as diligent and intentional about creating that open welcome back environment as we are about let’s be careful, 6 feet,” said Councilmember Tammy Thomas.

Mayor Michelle Distler said she’s received many calls from residents on both sides of the issue — some believe the city is moving too soon, while others believe the city isn’t moving fast enough.

“The communication that I’ve received has actually been quite divided in our community,” Distler said, noting that she’s heard some residents say they felt communities were opening too soon while others said “we haven’t opened soon enough.”