The difficulties of reopening the Recreation Center during a pandemic

March of 2020 was a hectic time for all of Oakland University’s campus, and the University Recreation and Well-Being (RecWell) building was no different. With the sudden spread of COVID-19, the department was forced to move to very limited hours to end the winter semester. Now, with fall semester around the corner, OU RecWell has been working on how to approach reopening.

Greg Jordan, Director of the RecWell, felt that the middle two weeks in March were some of the most difficult for the department.

“We didn’t know how much infection spread via contact versus breathing — we were debating quite a bit about if we should even be open at all,” Jordan said. “But, you know, hindsight’s twenty-twenty.”

On the heels of dealing with the sudden closure, the RecWell started putting together a plan for how and when to safely reopen. 

“We feel that recreation, physical activity and well-being are critical components to successful navigation of life, and so we think that our services are still important,” Jordan said. 

He went on to explain that “[he’s] been on probably a dozen calls at the state level and at the national level of recreation directors and staff” to draw from the experience and wisdom of other states reopening processes. “We can have the best laid plan, and you know what, it changes tomorrow,” he added. “You have to be flexible, you have to be nimble, you hear the word pivot a lot. Those are certain buzzwords I never want to hear again.”

Even with all of those hurdles and the unknown nature of COVID-19, RecWell has already piloted some pandemic-friendly programs over the summer. Their virtual group exercise programs survived the sudden closure in March and continued to be popular as a safe workout option from home. Intramural sports, similarly, looked to the online space to find ways to continue allowing students to compete from home.

Jordan Leslie, Intramural and Club Sports Coordinator, used the summer to test out intramural esports tournaments to some success. 

“We want to continue to expand our virtual options, esports will continue to grow in the fall,” Leslie said. “Rocket League and Fortnite have been pretty popular so far — we’re definitely looking to continue growing those.”

Aside from continued esports tournaments and events, Leslie explained that the department still wants to continue offering physical exercise for students to stay active and remain social while still being cautious of the pandemic. He and others worked to find safe alternatives to the most popular intramural events for the upcoming semester.

“Everything pretty much is on the table at this point, basically what we’re trying to do is take what we’ve offered in the past and transform it into something that we can do with COVID,” Leslie said. “For example, instead of doing flag football we might do a punt, pass and kick kind of event…same thing for soccer, maybe having a soccer shootout instead.”

The end goal is to open this area of Oakland University as carefully as possible while still giving students the opportunity to use the resources available to be physically and mentally supported. Greg Jordan hopes that the reopening process will give the department a chance to rethink and adapt how they help the OU community.

“I think, when you’re challenged like this, an opportunity is there. COVID has given us the opportunity to revisit our values and our mission, and I think it really has confirmed the importance of the services we provide.”