CORONAVIRUS

Local cities open up rec centers for essential employees' children

Children play foosball Monday at the Coralville Recreation Center as part of a spring camp offered by the city for child
Children play foosball Monday at the Coralville Recreation Center as part of a spring camp offered by the city for children of essential municipal employees. (City of Coralville photo)
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CORALVILLE — The Coralville Recreation Center might be closed to the public, but there’s still a flurry of activity inside.

Reading, playing on iPads, pingpong and foosball. And hand washing. So much hand washing.

“Everybody in the building washes hands every hour, no matter what,” said Coralville parks and recreation director Sherrie Proud.

The cities of Coralville, Iowa City and North Liberty have all committed to providing essential services to their citizens. Those services need employees and some of those employees need a place for their children to go during the day while schools are closed and child care facilities are scaling back. So, each city is offering programs during the day for children of essential city workers. Johnson County employees essential to operations are also invited to participate in the programs, which Coralville is referring to as a “spring camp.”

“We need to keep people working,” Proud said. “We want water to come out of our faucets. We want garbage picked up ... Those services need to go on. We needed to find a way to allow our employees to come to work.”

All three camps are for school-age children. Iowa City is offering their camp at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center/Scanlon Gymnasium. North Liberty’s program is taking place at its Community Center. All three programs kicked off Monday morning.

“Obviously, child care for school-age kids is important and it’s about making sure that essential staff can continue to do the important work they’re doing,” said North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus.

All three programs are being staffed by recreation department employees. North Liberty’s program is also staffed by library workers. The Coralville Library has made books, computers and iPads available for Coralville’s camp. All three programs are getting lunches provided by the Iowa City Community School District.

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Iowa City Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson said the city is taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Everybody coming into the building washes their hands and has their temperature taken. The children are kept in groups no larger than eight or nine and counselors go with them to wash their hands regularly. Two employees are on hand just to clean the facilities regularly.

Coralville and North Liberty reported similar measures at their camps.

Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Stephen Murley told The Gazette on Monday that the district has been in talks with the Iowa Department of Human Resources and Johnson County, “to determine need and how we can help meet the need.”

So far, the programs are being self-funded by the cities. However, the cities are tracking their expenses in the event that aid becomes available to offset the costs of the camps.

Seydell Johnson said the Mercer camp has a capacity of 54 children, but only eight were participating on Monday. Should demand increase, she said is possible other city facilities could be used to expand the camps, depending on the availability of staff.

“I’m just happy we can help the community and be part of the essential services we need to have right now,” Seydell Johnson said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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