The Le Sueur Community Center may resume operations as soon as September.
On Thursday, the Le Sueur City Council held a special work session to discuss reopening the Community Center, using funds from the CARES Act. The council will not make its decision until Monday, July 27.
In May, the Community Center was closed by the council, due to the higher operating costs and lower revenues associated with running the facility during COVID-19. At the time, worst case budget projections showed that opening the center would leave the budget with a $260,000 deficit. The city isn’t allowed to run a deficit and would need to take funds from other areas in the budget.
Now, city staff are proposing that the city open the Community Center and make up the budget with the $300,000 the city received from the CARES Act. Staff recommended an operating plan that would begin opening up facilities in September, leaving a $159,000 deficit to be reimbursed through CARES Act dollars.
City Administrator Jasper Kruggel said that he was confident that Community Center expenses would be eligible for reimbursement after receiving guidance from several organizations, including Minnesota Management and Budget.
“There are ways we can justify unbudgeted staff time that we’ve dedicated related to COVID-19, because really it is,” said Kruggel. “We’re fighting through this budget process because of COVID-19, for the most part, as a justified expense.”
Staff recommendations would open most, but not all Community Center facilities. The fitness center, gym and racquetball courts would open on Sept. 1, while the ice arena is scheduled to begin operations on Sept. 26. However, the indoor pool and the locker rooms would remain closed.
City staff believe that it would cost far more to open the indoor pool than other facilities. With an estimated 25% increase in expenditures from COVID-19, opening the indoor pool from Sept. 1 onward would create a $118,000 deficit. In comparison, operating the fitness center would leave an estimated $47,000 deficit and the ice arena a $26,000 deficit.
“I know there are individuals that really miss the pool,” said Kruggel. “Hopefully, they are able to use the outdoor pool. We’ve purchased some ADA steps to make it easier to get in and out of that pool. We’re also looking for indoor pools that are open in the area that we could use our transit system to bus people to, during the winter months, to do water aerobics, water walking or just general pool therapy.”
Due to Gov. Tim Walz’ recent mask mandate, Community Center attendees will be required to wear masks inside the facility, except when exercising on a machine, playing racquetball or playing sports in the gym.
New rates have been proposed by city staff for using the center, but those rates will not be finalized until the July 27 council meeting. While staff had the power to make the decision to open the Community Center, Councilor Newell Krogmann wanted the decision to go through the council first.
“It’s not just a financial decision solely,” said Krogmann told Kruggel. “It’s also a safety and liability concern opening up during COVID time. I would certainly favor opening with the guidelines you’ve given and the precautions that will be taken, but I really think it's a policy position the council should make.”