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Willmar recreation facilities to remain closed until Jan. 4

Willmar recreation facilities will remain closed until Jan. 4, the day the governor will allow team practices to begin. The Willmar City Council did discuss opening the buildings for small group activities, but no motion was forthcoming.

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The Willmar Civic Center, Community Center and Auditorium will remain closed until Jan. 4, when team activities are allowed to restart in Minnesota, according to Gov. Tim Walz's executive order. Shelby Lindrud / Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — The Willmar Civic Center, Community Center and Auditorium will remain closed until Jan. 4, after the Willmar City Council voted Monday to follow staff recommendations on whether to open the facilities earlier.

While Gov. Tim Walz's updated executive order allows gyms and recreational facilities to open up for individual exercise, as long as mask and social distancing requirements are followed, City Administrator Brian Gramentz said staff felt the city's facilities really didn't fit that use. The city doesn't have workout equipment available for individual use and the vast majority of activities that occur at those buildings are group- or team-related.

Team sports practices, for both youth and adults, will restart Jan. 4 statewide.

"The Jan. 4 day is appropriate to reopen up, because the use of our facilities could actually occur," Gramentz said.

Gramentz said there was some discussion about opening up for small groups of fewer than 10 people from two households, but due to the time of the year, staff decided against recommending that move.

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"During the holiday time, there aren't a lot of requests to come on the ice," said Rob Baumgarn, Parks and Recreation director.

The vote to keep the facilities closed was 6 to 2, with Councilors Andrew Plowman and Rick Fagerlie voting against. However, after the vote, the discussion about opening up for small groups or individuals continued.

Several councilors and the mayor talked about seeing figure skaters and hockey teams practicing out on the lakes and stormwater ponds. They said opening the facilities for individuals and small groups could both earn the city some money while also providing activities for youth.

"Let the kids play, they need something to do," Fagerlie said.

The executive order differentiates between what is allowed indoors and outdoors, and health professionals believe outdoor recreation carries a smaller risk of spreading the coronavirus than when people are inside. Even outside, people are supposed to practice social distancing and limit the numbers of people involved. And masks are still recommended when near other people.

"They are not supposed to be fighting over a puck. They are supposed to be focusing on their skills," Gramentz said while confirming there aren't ice police outside making sure people are following the rules. "Willmar is blessed it has outdoor ice they can go to."

Frustration over the state restrictions seems to be rising on the council.

"I would err on the side of liberty versus safety," Plowman said.

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Despite the dialogue about allowing small groups to use the city facilities, no motion to allow it was made and no additional action was taken.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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