“The last thing I want to do is close beaches but they are definitely going to have to be managed differently now with COVID – 19 restrictions and the guidelines to keep the public safe. I am working with Mary Ellen to close the gap to fund the beaches without negatively impacting other services,” Parks & Recreation Director James Snyder told City Councilor Michael Cannon, in an email.
District 4 City Councilor Cannon, as well as several other City Councilors posted on Facebook to say they were unhappy and shocked to hear the City planned to open just one beach, as the community begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“This abrupt change is moving us in the wrong direction. All three beaches should be available to families this summer,” said District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini on Facebook. Lake Waushakum Beach is located in his district.
The decision to open or close a beach is made by the executive branch (Spicer Administration) and not by the legislative branch (City Council).
“The idea of one makes little sense. If you have to reduce the capacity you have to increase the supply. I just do not understand how management decisions like this are made. Beaches, especially social distanced beaches, seem like one of the safer endeavors. Outside transmission is minimal, especially when distanced. We need to do better,” said City Council Chair George P. King Jr.
“This is probably the worst thing for families after a 4 month lockdown. This will have a greater effect on the ones who need it the most, all Framingham beaches should be open,’ said City Councilor At-Large Janet Leombruno, who said she learned the City planned to open just one beach from SOURCE.
In another email to Councilor Cannon, Synder wrote “it would take an additional $70,000 to fully staff the beaches 100% as normal.”
Framingham Superintendent of Recreation Trisha Powell told the Commissioners last week the biggest challenge that the Department is currently facing is how to keep social distancing on both the beach and in the water, under the COVID-19 guidelines.
The City told the Parks & Recreation Commissioners its intention was to open just one beach – Learneds Pond Beach.
The City of Framingham’s two other beaches are at Lake Waushakum and Saxonville Lake in District 2.
Powell said Parks & Rec plans to train multiple teams of lifeguards. And then establishing a policy that if one lifeguard team member is sick, then the entire team would have to quarantine for the recommended 14 days.
But Synder told Councilor Cannon in an email the “issue with guarding a beach is not as much funding as it is that only half the guards stated that they would be willing to return under the new COVID – 19 guidelines. We are actively trying to hire new guards to safely open Saxonville beach but the number of qualified lifeguards available is limited, in part to personal safety concerns, but also the fact that many guards have not been able to get their guard certificate recertified for the summer due to the COVID – 19 restrictions. Waushakum historically receives very few beach visitors and would be the last choice to guard, even if funding and staff were available. Staffing fluctuations with many guards include going on family vacations, calling in sick, or going back to school in August also impact our desire to fully staff all the beaches.”
Synder said in an email “as we went through the hiring process and COVID – 19 guidelines this year we realized that not every guard wanted to return, even after they applied. In addition, many guards did have the ability to re-certify so they chose other jobs that did not require an updated certification further shrinking the available pool of applicants. Many communities only staff and operate one beach, which we can do, however, keeping the staff and public safe at two additional beaches comes with additional cost, staffing, maintenance/cleaning, and COVID – 19 challenges.”
Synder told Councilor Cannon this year there are additional COVID-19-related expenses “for PPE, signage, social distancing supplies, and cleaning supplies.”
But despite the increased maintenance and costs to run the beaches, Synder said the City plans to sell beach passes at a lower price in 2020.
Synder wrote the City is planning to “drastically reduce the price of a family beach pass to just $10 per Framingham family for the season, down from $40 last year.”
Individual passes would be $5 per person.
“We would include first responders, veterans and seniors in the individual category. Families experiencing financial hardship may receive a scholarship for a fee waiver or free beach pass, as we have always done in the past,” added Synder.
The Parks & Recreation staff told the Parks & Recreation Commission at a meeting last Wednesday, the earliest the City would open the beach is July.
The City’s three beaches typically open this week in June, traditionally.
Photo from the City of Framingham