Oxford Park Commission preparing post-coronavirus programs

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, May 14, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oxford, life was put on hold for everyone, including those involved in sports and programs offered at Oxford Park Commission.

Spring activities were paused, with the summer schedule essentially canceled due to several factors.

When the Board of Aldermen voted to furlough 135 city employees last month, 90 percent of OPC’s staff was sent home. Executive director Seth Gaines is currently the only staff member running OPC.

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With that in mind, Gaines is beginning to evaluate and plan how OPC can resume operations once it is allowed by the City. The fall months could have a very different look to than in years past.

“What we expect to look different is the programming aspect of it,” Gaines said. “People are used to playing baseball in the spring. Well, we hope that they’ll be able to play baseball, but obviously it will be a fall season. Then, it turns into, ‘What are we to do to condense the season to be able to play multiple sports in the fall?'”

The intention of still getting all the sports OPC offers throughout the year played in the fall will create unique challenges. The spring sport of soccer still had three weeks of its season remaining when Gaines had to pull the plug in March. Getting a schedule that flows with all the fields and facilities is one challenge, but also which sports children will play is another.

Many families are tightening their budgets after being off of work due to COVID-19, or just choosing to be frugal with their spending this year. That will lead to them making tougher than normal decisions regarding which OPC activities their child will participate in.

“Parents, they’re going to be strapped to make a different choice this year than they have in any other time,” Gaines said. “Just to be able to get these activities and the kids in the programs and the sports, parents may be forced to make more choices where we have already tried to not make parents have to make a choice between, ‘Well, (instead) of being in this program or that program, is there a way to do them both?’ … We want to get opportunities for everybody to play what they want to play.”

Until OPC can get back to a normal calendar year, whenever that may be possible, the tough choices parents will be asked to make will be present. Plans to figure out how condensed schedules for certain programs might look were already being worked on prior to Gaines losing his entire staff to furlough.

Budget crunching and belt tightening will not be felt just within families; Gaines said he is reviewing OPC’s budget when navigating the best course of action for the fall. The OPC Board met on Wednesday to discuss their budget. Money for the programming side of things comes from registration fees that people pay, not the City’s budget for OPC.

If there are any kind of cuts coming to OPC regarding staff, it will not be any full-time employees, but possibly part-time staff, according to Gaines. That decision would be based on cutting programming that OPC offers so the full-time staff would not have to work the floor of the activity center and take away from their jobs.

“We never talked about cutting any full-time staff or anything like that,” Gaines said. “It was cutting the part-time staff, and there may be some programs we manage that we may have to cut out, and I don’t know what they are right now.”

The decision to cut part-time staff, if Gaines has to make that choice, could possibly limit the number of Oxford Intermediate School students who use OPC facilities after school if OPC does not have enough staff to work the facilities.

All summer programming and camps are canceled, but Gaines said that if they are allowed to resume operations and bring back staff, they would restart the spring programming that was paused and allow those participants to finish them.