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Unicoi County Family YMCA has reopened to community

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Unicoi County Family YMCA for almost two months. The facility reopened last month, but with restrictions in place. For more information, call the Y at 743-3361. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Trey Williams

The coronavirus pandemic shut down the Unicoi County Family YMCA for nearly two months, but the down time was spent sprucing up.

Director Frank Cooke said a number of improvements were made while the center was closed (March 17-May 11).

“We went ahead and utilized the time getting some things done that we’d wanted to do, some major cleaning, repairing, fixing up, making improvements,” Cooke said. “Our after-school care is handled in a little house next door that we own, and we did a complete repainting of it. We have a garage that had just been used as storage the last number of years. We took the garage door off and put up a wall and regular walk-in door and a heating and air conditioning unit, put in a ceiling and insulated it. We’re gonna be able to use it as like a craft center for summer camp and after-school.”

A partial reopening occurred May 11 for the fitness center.

“But we didn’t have the swimming pool open, no sauna, no steam room, no showers, no locker rooms, no basketball in the gym or anything,” Cooke said. “It was a skeleton crew. That first two weeks we opened on a limited schedule. We opened at eight in the morning and closed at six, just because I wasn’t sure of all the extra cleaning and stuff we were going to have to do – how much time it was going to take, what all we would need and how many people we could get to do that. After two weeks we made the decision to open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. The first two weeks we didn’t open on the weekend. And then after Memorial Day our hours changed (to include 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays).”

The sauna and steam room are still off limits. The gym essentially is, too.

“Basketball is still not back,” Cooke said. “We do emergency childcare for DHS. We’re limited to nine students per teacher. And we’re having to do the distancing and all that stuff. So we’re having to use the gym to accommodate all of that. So as long as we’re doing emergency childcare, which is supposed to go through mid-August, I don’t know that we’re going to have the opportunity to have the gym open for very much except maybe on weekends. …

“We opened the swimming pool the Wednesday after Memorial Day. It was limited to 10 people. … So we had a few people coming in to swim, but not a lot. And since it was just lap swimming and mainly exercise only, we just did it from 8 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon. The governor (Bill Lee) on Thursday gave the okay to increase the numbers in the pools, as long as you kept distance between people. He also opened up locker rooms and showers Thursday.”

Cooke is pleased that the center will soon offer 24/7 all-access options. Unmanned gyms have still not been cleared by the governor to reopen.

“As soon as he gives approval for that, the Y will be doing 24/7 access, card-key access, so people can use the Y during hours we are normally closed,” Cooke said. “They can use the fitness center with all the machines and weights and all that kind of stuff. We were in the process of getting it going right when we were shut down.”

The shutdown still seems almost unimaginable.

“It’s nothing that had actually crossed anybody’s mind,” Cooke said, “that it was even possible for things to change as much as they did, you know, just a complete shutdown of everything. It was just unreal. Our board went ahead and made the decision to shut the Y down before our governor made the decision for exercise facilities to shut down. It was only three or four days (earlier). So we were kind of on the leading edge of it.

“Still yet, we’re only seeing about anywhere between 30 and 35 percent of our people coming through that we were seeing on a daily basis before. Part of it is due to the things we don’t have yet – the sauna, the steam room. We just opened the swimming pool, but it’s not fully opened. We don’t have the gym.”

Social distancing required some of the weight room equipment to be removed or rearranged.

“It’s a big change with everything,” Cooke said. “And then having people going through about every two hours spraying everything down and sanitizing, in addition to having people wipe down their machines before and after they use them – there’s a lot of change that has occurred in a short period of time. And I kind of expect we’ll see some portions of it continue, maybe, from now on.”