As Gov. Greg Abbott continues taking gradual steps to reopen the Texas economy, City of Mineral Wells officials are taking similar steps to reopen facilities and access to services.
With city council meeting Tuesday evening in its third Zoom video call, City Manager Randy Criswell said City Hall and the City Hall Annex reopened Monday to the public to conduct business.
While Boyce Ditto Public Library was able to open last week under 25% capacity and other restrictions, Criswell said that hasn't happened yet but said the library could partially reopen next week.
"(Library manager) Louanne Noel and (Fire Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator) Chief (Mike) Pool have been working on a reopening plan," Criswell said. "I think Louanne has done a super job on this. She has a great plan in place. It's not set in stone yet. It is something we are working on."
City commissions and boards are also making plans to begin meeting again. The city's new Economic Development Corporation board meets for the first time at noon Friday via a Zoom video conference call.
Utility customers can once again go inside City Hall for help or to make payments. Criswell said the city may consider permanently suspending online payment fees to encourage online payments.
"Anyone who can do business with us online we have removed every obstacle and I hope they will continue to do that," Criswell said. "I think this is a social change and a good way to do it."
The governor's new executive orders issued earlier in the day Tuesday allows swimming pools to open, and gyms can reopen Monday, all operating at 25% capacities. Showers and locker rooms are to remain closed.
"We haven't actually been authorized today to open the gym," Criswell said. "We are making plans and talking about how we will, but we are not opening the gym or the activity center yet and we are not unlocking the gates to the athletic fields. I think we are better off to not do that. They will be in time."
The Aquatics Center and its two pools are another matter. Criswell said there are hiring and training concerns along with operational costs relative to expected revenue losses.
"There is a very real possibility we will lose money this summer," Criswell said. "It probably loses money every year."
According to the city budget, the West City Park swimming facility anticipated collecting $40,000 in fees this year.
Criswell said a city provides certain public services and amenities, including parks and recreational opportunities, that almost never pay for themselves.
"I feel like going into the summer we need to be thinking about things we can do to operate very efficiently," Criswell told council. "There are a lot of things we are looking at and will be looking at."
One concern is that the city has missed out on opportunities to hire and train enough lifeguards, which typically comes through high school students and college students home for the summer.
"We need a minimum of a month to get people hired, trained and ready," Criswell said.
Two months ago the aquatics center faced the possibility of not opening for the summer after it was discovered the exteriors of two large sand filter tanks were in disrepair and possibly near failure. However, help came in the form of Baker Hotel Development Group principal and construction project manager Mark Rawlings and the city was able to make repairs to sufficiently keep the crucial tanks operable for now.
During those discussions, council members said they view operating the pool was of community importance. Besides open swim times, the pools are used for summer swim lessons, senior water aerobics and for training by the Mineral Wells Water Moccasins swim team for its summer competition season, which includes hosting a regional Texas Amateur Athletic Federation meet.
If operating and managing 25% capacity at the pool facility is a concern, Ward 3 Councilwoman Beth Watson asked whether the parks department could utilize a reservation system so that swimmers could come and go at certain times.
At-Large Councilwoman Regan Johnson asked whether the swim team and TAAF were making plans to have a summer swim season, saying she would like to see the competitive pool available to the team for training.
According the the TAAF website, a decision on the summer swim and youth track seasons will be made by June 1.
Councilman Brian Shoemaker asked about the timetable of getting lifeguards trained and certified.
"It sounds like a time crunch right now, and can you even get the people trained in time to get the pool open," he said.
City Clerk Peggy Clifton told council the city has, and continues to accept, lifeguard applications.
"I think it would be a worthy goal to open by July 1 and stay open through Labor Day," Watson said. "I don't want to be the only municipal pool closed."
Watson also asked about cleaning and custodial care going forward.
"We have established far greater cleaning protocols than what we had four or five months ago," Criswell said. "It has been a cultural change within our organization."
Council will revisit the swimming facility question in two weeks.
"I would like for us to be as prepared as possible," Ward 3 Councilman Doyle Light said. "If there is an opportunity for our citizens to be able to enjoy the pool this summer I would like for them to be able to do that."
Criswell said he is "not making these decisions unilaterally." He relies on information coming down from the federal and state governments, and guidance from Mayor Tammy Underwood and Pool.
"I would just like for everyone to realize this is going to be a long, drawn-out process," Pool said. "We are kind of in the middle. This is not over. We tried to change the curve and we know a little bit more about what we are doing. ... It is going to change the ways we do a lot of things for a long time."
Underwood agreed, urging citizens not to completely relax yet when it comes to exercising caution and protection from coronavirus infection even as more businesses begin to reopen and restrictions are lifted.
Palo Pinto County has reported eight lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus, most of those being several weeks old. There are no more than two active cases in the county, based on reports. The Texas Department of State Health Services still reports one COVID-19 death for the county.
Underwood said local and county officials talk three days a week. She said she has been impressed that conversations and decisions are being made first out of compassion and concern for people.
"We just have to keep doing what we are doing," Underwood said. "We still have a long way to go. We need to stay diligent and focused."
"I am still very concerned," Criswell added.