Recreation facilities open back up

Deb Hatch, left, and Lynette McCoy play the net during a game of pickleball Friday at the Wellness Center.

Residents are beginning to experience a return to normalcy following the Tellico Village Recreation Department’s strategic plan to gradually reopen facilities.

Gyms and wellness facilities in smaller counties such as Loudon received the green light April 27 from Gov. Bill Lee to reopen under certain guidelines.

Simon Bradbury, Tellico Village Property Owners Association recreation director, made the decision to reopen certain facilities and exercise classes May 4 after a series of discussions and careful analysis.

“First and foremost, we want to do things safely, we want to people out and active because it’s good for your physical and mental well-being, but we don’t want to put people at risk,” Bradbury said. “We’re getting guidelines and the (POA) board of directors are also looking at the government guidelines.

“One of the biggest concerns here is we are a high-risk population, so we’re not necessarily going to do everything the way everybody else does,” he added. “Our whole management team sits down and discusses at length all the different details of it. We run things through the recreation committee and we send it to the board for approval for our plans.”

The first reopening phase consists of following strict social distancing guidelines, such as staying 6 feet apart and limiting facility hours to staff hours only.

Guests will also be asked a series of questions regarding any possible COVID-19 exposure. Appointments or reservations must be made ahead of time in order to use any facility, pickleball court, tennis court or fitness classroom at Chota Recreation Center or the Wellness Center.

Appointments for all areas are limited to 45-minute intervals per activity and can made within 24 hours of the expected reservation time.

Only 10 people will be allowed in a specific area at a time and traffic flow in and out of buildings will remain one-way to avoid unnecessary contact.

All pools, saunas, locker rooms and weight training stations as well as Tugaloo and Kahite pavilions will remained closed.

“One of the hardest parts is going by the guidelines where you have to have just 10 people,” Bradbury said. “According to the guidelines, well, how are we going to manage that because you’ve got to have one staff because everything has to be supervised during this phase. We opened up our cardio equipment, but we couldn’t open up our weights because there’s no way to keep people from cross-contamination.”

Bradbury has been pleased with overall response from residents.

“We have had a tremendous response from Villagers, from our members, people being very patient, appreciative, respectful,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, I couldn’t ask for a better response from people. People are being kind, considerate, appreciative. I’m getting a lot of good feedback about our customer service, and I feel like they’re all getting this, ‘We’re all in together.’ We’re trying out best to make it work.”

Pickleball and tennis courts at Chota, the Wellness Center and Kahite Activity Center have yielded the best turnout so far.

Members of the Tellico Village Pickleball Club have taken full advantage since enduring a month-long break due to the pandemic.

“Boy, I think everybody’s happy to get out and do something again,” Pat Clemens, TVPC president, said. “It was one of the last things to get shut down and one of the first things to reopen, so I think people are excited.”

Pickleball is often a way for members to connect and stay socially active.

“We’ve got around 800 members in the Village, and I think everybody’s just happy to be back out and playing again and getting involved,” Clemens said. “I think a little bit of it has to do with also having a social life again because I think everybody in the Village has been doing a great job of staying socially distant and doing all the things that they needed to do, and now they’ve got an opportunity to reconnect with some people they haven’t seen in a while. I think that’s good for them, too.”

The club’s annual Pickleball Shootout tournament has been rescheduled for Sept. 11-13. Other upcoming events are delayed until further notice.

All three recreation facilities are offering limited fitness classes by appointment.

Genese Kerns, a Village fitness instructor who leads weekly Cardio-Dance and mat pilates classes, said response from Villagers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I offered to teach three classes a day, which was a big jump from nothing for seven weeks, but I was trying to keep myself busy at home like everybody else,” Kerns said. “I had the full number of nine in each class, so it’s not nearly as many people as we’re able to get. I know that there are still people that are still quarantining ... but I think I’ve probably had a good a response on the other end, too, if you figure nine people is the limit for the class.”

Kerns said the recreation department is taking necessary precautions to keep guests safe and healthy.

“I mean I’ve gone every day from my car to teaching every day in front of a class without touching anything or anyone,” she said. “There’s hand sanitizer, they don’t sign in, there’s no pen, there’s no paper and, of course, everybody is 6 feet apart.

“I’ve been trying to encourage people to come out in whatever way they feel comfortable because we exercise and all those chemicals in our brain — dopamine, endorphins — we haven’t been getting any of that,” she added. “We’ve been walking around with all these stress-induced chemicals because of the quarantine and unable to get rid of any of that.”

Bradbury said the recreation department is preparing contingency plans due to the fluidity of the pandemic.

“The governor puts out some new guidelines, we assess them as a team and we make our recommendations to the board and the board decides what’s best for the Village,” he said. “There’s quite a few people involved. Again, my staff from the department looks at it and goes, ‘How best can we regulate this? What are our recommendations?’ The advisory board looks at it, tweaks it a little bit and we send it to the (board of directors).”

Chota Recreation Center and the Wellness Center are open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.