It’s warm, it’s sunny and we all want to play outside. But this summer’s going to look a little different - okay a lot different - for everyone. While we better understand how to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we still have to be extra cautious about keeping our distance from others, washing our hands, and sanitizing surfaces that are frequently touched.
Many government officials have now loosened restrictions on outdoor activities and facilities, but people who live or work in a densely populated condo or HOA communities should be prepared to make some adjustments when it comes to operating and using popular amenities such as basketball hoops, tennis courts, and pools.
Below are some guidelines to follow if your community is reopening non-essential amenities.
It’s still not business as usual
Communities must proceed with caution if they are planning to or have already started reopening their amenities. Don’t expect to return to pre-COVID times this summer. New rules and restrictions must be created for shared amenities to minimize risk and help ensure everyone remains healthy. While it is impossible to guarantee that any public space can be free of the virus, there are steps that communities can take to facilitate safer usage of shared amenities.
Some people aren’t going to be happy about these new rules, but they’re going to have to learn to live with them, at least for the foreseeable future.
Before you do anything, make sure you can reopen
First and foremost, you must ensure that local officials have okayed the reopening of public pools, sports facilities, outdoor spaces, etc. Unfortunately, every county or city has different rules, which can make the reopening process a little confusing. Check your local government and health websites to find out what is and is not permitted in your area.
Note that there may be no specific rules about HOA or condo amenities; look to rules and regulations designed for public facilities and create a plan based on those regulations. If government instructions/protocols don’t address this topic at all, then non-essential amenity openings should be delayed.
Plan. Don’t leave anything to chance
The next step is to create detailed and thorough plans. For example, boards should be thinking about:
- Which amenities can open first
- Which amenities may still be too risky to reopen
- Cleaning procedures/routines
- If the association has the budget to meet sanitation and cleaning requirements
- If operating hours will be reduced
- How many people will be allowed to use an amenity at one time
- What will be done to ensure people keep their distance from each other
- If a signup schedule will be required
- How new rules/requirements will be communicated to residents
- Who will ensure that residents follow the new rules
- What happens if residents don’t follow the new rules
- What happens if someone gets sick
Boards need to have comprehensive plans in place that align with local regulations provided by health and community officials. A concrete plan will help everyone understand what is expected of them, and will provide a roadmap for the community to use if something goes wrong.
Plans should be reviewed by a lawyer to ensure the board isn’t taking any unnecessary risks, and that the plans can actually be carried out.
Communication is essential during this time. What good is a plan if no one knows about it? Rules are still changing and evolving, and residents are looking for direction. Yes, they need to know which amenities are open or closed, but they also need to know how to conduct themselves when using certain facilities. Use email, announcements, your resident portal, bulletin boards, or whatever communication methods work best in your community. Just make sure everyone gets the message.
Create a schedule using an amenity booking system
It would be a risky mistake for a community to reopen the gym, party room, or tennis court without placing limitations on how many people can use these facilities at one time. Capacity may need to be cut in half and hours may need to be reduced so that residents can maintain a safe distance from each other and deep cleaning can be performed regularly. An amenity booking system could be very useful to board members and property managers who need help creating a schedule for all of their amenities.
Condo Control Central’s Amenity Booking feature gives residents the ability to book timeslots for shared amenities. They can do everything online from their computer, or download the app and book a timeslot from their phone. Reservation lists can be displayed for each amenity, and residents can essentially manage themselves.
Using this booking feature, management can control:
- Which amenities are available for booking
- Hours of operation
- Maximum booking length
- Maximum spots available at one time
- How often a unit or resident can book a specific amenity
Management can also update terms and conditions for each amenity, and make it mandatory for residents to sign an online agreement before they book an amenity. Including an online agreement is an excellent idea because it allows residents to look at the rules and expectations for the specific amenity they are requesting to use.
The most popular amenities will also be the hardest ones to reopen
Our clients tell us that pretty much everyone is asking about the gym or the pool. But these facilities may be the most difficult to operate safely. Pools are crowded, and gym equipment is usually packed into one small space.
Some cities have reopened public pools, but a few local governments have ordered that pools remain closed for the entire summer season. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through the water in pools. Proper operation and maintenance, including the use of disinfectants like chlorine or bromine, should stop the virus from harming anyone.
However, it’s not just the cleanliness of the water that communities must think about. Pool goers must be able to keep their distance from each other in the water and on the pool deck.
Condos and HOAs that have already reopened their pools are cutting the maximum capacity, limiting pool hours, and removing a lot of the chairs on the deck. Bathrooms are also being cleaned multiple times each day, and soap, water, paper towels and hand sanitizer should be available to residents at all times.
Guest passes may not be issued at this time in order to give residents more opportunities to enjoy the pool. One or two-hour time slots may be available.
Among the main challenges of reopening a gym is figuring out where to place the cardio equipment. Some buildings have removed a portion of their machines to ensure proper social distancing. Others have taken every other piece of equipment out of service. Free weights and mats have been removed from the facility, and hours of operation have been limited.
Cardio machines must be sanitized multiple times each day, and disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer should also be available to residents at all times. Only two or three people may have permission to use the gym at the same time, and timeslots may be limited to 30 or 45 minutes.
When it comes to reopening non-essential amenities, every community will be different. There’s no one right time or right way to approach this challenge. Just because you can open the pool or gym doesn’t mean that you should. Move forward with the reopening process only if you can take the steps necessary to keep your community as safe as possible. Plan, communicate and be prepared to make changes as we slowly return to a more normal way of life.
Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control Central, a leading software company that provides web-based communication, management, and security solutions for Condo's/HOA's of all sizes.
He is also a former board member, having served more than 12 years as both treasurer and president.