Piece by piece, the Aspen Recreation Center is beginning to reopen for indoor use after the coronavirus pandemic effectively put a bolt on the door in March.
Many user organizations, such as Aspen Junior Hockey and the local skating clubs, already found a way to at least partially return to the ice, and the ARC hopes to have the facility — or at least most of it — open to its regular members as soon as Oct. 5.
“Colors are changing early and we are going to start seeing snow and cold. So we are trying to get people the opportunity to come back into the facility safely,” Cory Vander Veen, the city of Aspen’s director of recreation, said this past week. “We are starting to get things back opened up. It’s exciting. It’s different in trying to communicate to the customers, especially when we reinstate members.”
When and if things do open up that first week of October — a few hurdles still remain before it’s official — it certainly won’t look like it did. Any ARC member looking to use the facilities, such as the cardio or weight equipment or the pool, will need to sign up in advance using the SignUpGenius app and will be asked to check in upon arrival at the front door.
Safety remains at the forefront of the reopening plan, and finding adequate staffing is among the final pieces being put in place before the doors can be unlocked. This includes a large janitorial staff, as each area will have to be cleaned after use.
“That is a big undertaking. We got to make sure we have the right supplies; we have to make sure we have the right protocols in place,” Vander Veen said. “It will be a little different.”
Because of state and county rules, the facility can’t be at more than 25% capacity or more than 50 people, whichever comes first. The cardio room, for instance, normally has a capacity of around 30 people and will be limited to six to eight people at once while the current guidelines remain in place.
The Lewis Ice Arena currently is limited to 50 people, and only 25 of those can be on the ice surface at one time. That said, groups are still finding ways to make it work, from AJH to adult drop-in hockey, which has been highly attended.
“We’ve been maxed out every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, so we are going to increase those,” Vander Veen said of drop-in hockey sessions. “We started working on what adult hockey leagues will look like. We are talking about an earlier season league, and of course our modified winter league.”
The Aspen Ice Garden, which is managed by the city, is expected to reopen for use in November. The Red Brick Gymnasium, which is home to Aspen Gymnastics as well as a few other fitness classes, already has reopened with limited capacity. Vander Veen said they are trying to find a way to reopen the Red Brick climbing wall, although he also said the climbing wall inside the ARC will remain closed for “quite some time.”
“We are working on climbing. Still waiting on guidance from the county on if we can do climbing walls,” he said. “But we are trying to get the Red Brick one open. We have a lot of demand for that right now.”
Talk also has started on what the winter high school season could look like. The ARC and Lewis Ice Arena typically hosts most of Aspen High School hockey’s home games, as well as any home meets the AHS girls swim team might have. Both of those seasons are scheduled to start in early January.
With the current capacity limits, Vander Veen said among the biggest changes this winter season will be a lack of spectators. With no more than 50 people allowed in the ice arena, by the time all the players, coaches and officials are counted, finding room for fans won’t be an option. They do have plans to live stream high school games, however, with the help of GrassRoots TV.
“We have not even started considering a lot of spectators,” Vander Veen said. “We just don’t have the capacity. When the capacity is increased then we can start seeing more spectators. But that’s one of the biggest changes we are going to see over the winter, is facilities without spectators.”