CLEVELAND — In another step toward some semblance of normalcy, Cleveland city officials announced Thursday the return of summer programming at the city's recreation centers, including the reopening of outdoor pools. Although attendance for certain programs may be limited and masks will be required, community leaders say the relaunch of these programs is a step toward regaining what has been missing for more than a year.
At the start of the pandemic, city leaders ordered the closure of the city's recreation centers to limit the spread of the virus. The centers, which provide a myriad of programs to keep the city's youth active after school, were slowly reopened in the summer, but other programs were not. Basketball hoops, for example, had to be taken down after people continually failed to maintain social distancing.
When the programming returns, social distancing and mask wearing will still be enforced, Public Works Director Michael Cox said.
"We'll have people riding around to make sure that's happening. If it's not happening, then we'll have to resort to what we need to do to make sure our citizens are safe," Cox said. "We hope that everyone follows those guidelines and follows those safety precautions that we do. Everything we're doing, we're doing with the Restart Ohio and CDC guidelines that will be in place for all of these activities."
All 20 of the city's outdoor pools will re-open on June 12, Cox said.
The reopening of rec center programs is much more than giving kids a place to play, community leaders said. For many of Cleveland's neighborhoods, which were gripped by rising homicide rates in 2020, the rec centers provide safety, security and a way for the city's youth to stay out of trouble, said Walter Patton, a promise ambassador in Cleveland's Central neighborhood. Patton also runs a non-profit, Create Art Not Violence, that works with kids by using art as a way to keep them out of trouble.
Patton, who frequented the Lonnie Burton Recreation Center as a kid, said the community hubs are invaluable.
"[The reopening] is going to help tremendously. During those hours, those kids would be occupied instead of being in the streets running around, fighting, having nothing to do," Patton said. "With the rec being open, they can play basketball, football, work out or box. All the things that the rec provides, that's what was missing."
Patton said the summer of 2020 provided ample evidence of a rec center's value. In his neighborhood alone, there were 14 homicides, including three kids under the age of 16. One of the victims of gun violence was 14-year-old Myquan Bennett.
"He was murdered during recreation center hours. He played for the football team, basketball team, but since the pandemic hit and the rec was closed, he wasn't able to go to the rec," Patton said. "He was murdered at about 6 o'clock."
During the summer, the city's lunch program will remain as grab-and-go box lunches, a change that was made in 2020, Cox said. Additionally, once city officials complete some of the new permitting requirements, baseball leagues, like those operated by CMSD and other organizations, will be allowed to rent fields again.
When pools reopen on June 12, Cox said at a Thursday press conference that capacity will still be limited.