In a normal year, Sunset Pool, Fitness Center, Youth Center, Bob Chisholm Community Center, Mary Blake Playhouse and Broadway Field would be busy with spring activities. But in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s pool is closed and events are on hold. Even the Easter bunny stayed home when the district’s annual egg hunt was canceled.
In March, the district laid off 50 of 57 employees, Executive Director Skyler Archibald said Tuesday. A group of 10 others, mostly seasonal part-time employees, were not technically laid off because they were not working. No employees were terminated.
“It wasn’t a decision that we made lightly,” Archibald said. “But we wanted to give our employees the best opportunity to apply for unemployment and have some revenue coming in, and also to make sure the district was in the best financial shape when we reopened.”
All part-time program and maintenance staff with the exception of the meal site coordinator have been furloughed, he said. That includes lifeguards, youth recreation leaders, patron relation specialists, special event leaders and others.
Three of those laid off have been rehired, he said, putting the district’s current workforce at nine.
“Those were employees we deemed as essential, and those employees are working either remotely or here at the district facilities,” Archibald said. “Each of those positions are responsible for much of the district and those needs continue during this time of closure, although they look different.”
Archibald said the district has lost between $100,000 to $120,000 in revenue since the March closure and could continue to bleed $100,000 monthly during the shutdown. “There’s a lot of concern,” he said. “The majority of our revenue comes from the property tax subsidies we receive. But without the extra opportunity to generate some of our own revenue, we’ve had to make some of these hard decisions with staff and personnel.”
The only continuing programs are the city’s senior meal site at the Bob Chisholm Community Center and the emergency child care program.
The senior meal site offers a drive-up cafe every day and delivers outbound meals.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of diners,” Archibald said. “We usually have about 25 to 30 participants drive up each day.”
The district offers child care for children of hospital staff and first responders, a program that may be expanded to bring the service to others in the community whose workplaces are considered essential.
Operations through the end of the fiscal year are “pretty stable,” but moving forward, he said, “we’re taking a really cautious approach.”
Archibald said the district is staying in close contact with the laid-off employees. “We’ll be reinstating their sick and vacation benefits to them that they had, or the time they had over. The majority of employees that we interacted with are looking forward to coming back to the district when they are able to.”
Board member Michael Hinton pointed to the need to regain public support once facilities reopen.
“Depending on how soon we are able to start up, and what programs we can start up, we’ll depend on what minimal revenue we’ll be able to generate, probably for two to three months,” Hinton said. “Then we’ll have to gain public confidence in the district and make sure people are safe using our facilities and our programs.”