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Social distancing too big of a concern to open Aquacourt

The Hastings Parks and Recreation Department exhausted all options before announcing Thursday the Aquacourt Water Park would remain closed for the summer.

Social distancing was the major factor in the decision.

“Being able to enforce that and comply with that requirement was certainly a major hurdle for us,” Parks and Rec director Jeff Hassenstab said. “We not only reviewed the directed health measures, but we reviewed the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for pools and the American Red Cross.

“After reviewing those it came to the point where we became less and less comfortable with opening and being able to comply with those guidelines.”

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People float down the lazy river at the Hastings Aquacourt in this Sept. 3, 2006, file phot.

Hassenstab said in a facility with a capacity of 1,000, it would’ve been possible to adhere to Phase 2 of reopening guidelines and limit use to 25%, or 250 people at one time. Maintaining social distancing in a facility that large would’ve been too hard, however.

“We wanted to open,” he said. “We tried to think of everything we possibly could. We had some different operations in place, but in the end we thought it was too much to overcome.”

Not opening the Aquacourt was one of the tougher decisions he’s had to make.

“The water park, even given this week, how hot it is, it’s a great place to cool off,” Hassenstab said. “This has not been an easy decision by any means.”

The threat of the novel coronavirus spreading through the water wasn’t a concern.

“That was not an issue at all; chlorine does kill it,” Hassenstab said. “Our main concern was on the deck, on the grassy areas, social distancing. Water parks are meant for kids to socialize and be close in contact. That was one of our main decision factors, was we felt we could not control that to the level the guidelines were telling us to.”

He said the decision had to be made this week.

“Because if we felt like we could open we had to have a minimum of three weeks to prepare for that opening,” he said. “Our staff’s been faithful to us. We didn’t want to then keep on having them hang on, too. A lot of them want a job and want the money. I sat on a number of conference calls with a bunch of Nebraska communities, the American Red Cross and others.”

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The Hastings Parks and Recreation Department announced Thursday that the Hastings Aquacourt will remain closed for the summer.

Parks and Rec officials had planned to have extra staff just watch social distancing.

“Given the operations and just the nature of the pool, we thought it would be too tough to overcome,” he said.

Across Nebraska, smaller municipal pools are preparing to open.

Hassenstab said Lincoln is opening four of its nine pools. The four opening are neighborhood pools, each with a capacity of 35 people.

“That’s a lot different than our water park at 250 people,” he said. “It’s much more manageable in that regard. When you have 250 people and you’re trying to have them social distance, it becomes very tough.”

Hastings residents still can enjoy a number of other recreation amenities in the city starting this month.

Park playgrounds and the skate park opened on June 1, and the Libs Park splash pad is scheduled to open on June 8. The Heartwell Park and Lincoln Park wading pools will open on June 15.


HPS looks at summer, fall plans

With Hastings Public Schools buildings closed since mid-March, the district’s summer planning update carries an unusual amount of weight.

Superintendent Jeff Schneider provided the summer planning update, as well as a look toward fall, during the Hastings Board of Education work session on Thursday.

The most frequent question he receives is, “What will school look like in the fall?”

“I think the answer, unfortunately, is, ‘We don’t know,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to mislead anybody. But I will tell you this: We are making a ton of plans because we want to be ready to go.”

HPS officials have been in regular communication with multiple school districts, as well as Hastings College and Central Community College.

“While we have different circumstances, we’re in the same boat,” Schneider said.

What transportation will look like in the district when school resumes is unknown. It would be tough to pull off with current guidelines.

“The one thing we probably know is whatever the guidelines are today, they’re probably not going to be in August,” he said. “We’re just going to have to adjust with that and keep going.”

District officials continue to work with the assumption school may include some remote components.

“We’ve got to be ready to roll,” Schneider said. “We can’t say, ‘Well, we’re going to need a month to plan this.’ That’s our goal this summer is to have a platform in place and a plan.”

That includes synchronous and asynchronous schedules, depending on the age of the students.

“We’re going to have to have multiple options there,” he said. “Those are the types of things that we’re going to try to iron out the best we can this summer.”

Schneider said this will take a lot of staff development, which will require altering the district calendar.

The district plans to have a limited summer school offering in July at Lincoln Elementary for grades K-3, focused on literacy.

“That’s a key element,” Schneider said. “If kids struggle to read by the end of third grade it’s a tougher challenge for them to catch up. We think it makes total sense to have a small group; there will be less than 15 per room.”

No transportation will be available.

Summer school will be done by invite only, due to space constraints, based on reading assessments.

The district and families of graduates are looking forward to the commencement ceremony on July 26.

Schneider said officials won’t make firm announcements about the event until July, when there will be more information about health directives.

“It’s looking more and more promising that we’re going to be able to celebrate the class of 2020 in some fashion in a manner in which they definitely deserve,” he said.

He encouraged parents of children ready to go to kindergarten to contact the applicable elementary school for kindergarten registration. Families can call or go to the buildings in person. Shields are in place for protection.

Elementary offices will close in a few weeks for the summer, but the district office will be available to register students for kindergarten.

Because there wasn’t a Kindergarten Roundup this year, teachers created a video to help communicate with parents, which Schneider said was an excellent idea.

“All of us who have been first-time kindergarten parents know how scary that is for the first time,” he said.

Hastings High School had a return of more than 200 students this week for weights and conditioning. The students are in groups of 25 or fewer.

“It’s gone very well,” Schneider said. “Our coaches and activity director did a ton of planning to make that work.”

He thanked Mary Lanning Healthcare, which helped establish the procedures as far as the cleaning between weights and what needed to happen for safety.

“Every time we get a few kids in our building I feel like it’s a step towards testing out how things will go when we have students back in our building,” Schneider said.

Board member Sharon Brooks asked Schneider what were some of the things learned through closing out the school year through distance learning.

“When teachers did the simplest things to reach out to kids, it meant a ton to the kids and parents,” he said. “I think we already know how powerful teachers are in the lives of kids, but I think that cemented it more.”


Minden to reopen pool, other city facilities

MINDEN — The Minden Public Swimming Pool is among the city facilities that will be reopening, though with safety precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The Minden City Council voted Monday to approve reopening the pool, city hall, library and city park restrooms. The council also approved plans to resume sporting activities on city fields and residential drop-off recycling.

City Administrator Matthew Cederburg said the city will be following the guidelines set out in the state’s directed health measures, which include a 25-person gathering limit.

“We’re continuing to follow Gov. Pete Ricketts’ June 1 DHMs,” he said.

For the city pool, there are a number of safety precautions needed before it reopens. Cederburg said employees will hang a clear barrier at the front desk and put in markings to help patrons respect the 6-foot distance between family groups.

Visitors to the pool will sign up for 75-minute time slots online. City Clerk Abbey Jordan said a new link for the scheduling webpage will be posted each week on the city’s webpage as well as its Facebook page.

Between each time slot, pool users will exit in a separate area to avoid anything passing between groups and limiting interactions in bathrooms.

The pool will be disinfected twice a day without patrons inside, once before opening and another halfway through the day.

To encourage social distancing while within the pool area, there will be marks painted every 10 feet. The pool will be divided into quarters to provide distancing guidance within the water.

In other areas of the city, similar reopenings also will follow the DHMs laid out by the state.

The Jensen Memorial Library opened Wednesday with a set of procedures to conform to the DHMs. Some of the furniture was removed to maintain 6-foot distancing. The computer area will be limited to half the stations. Computer users will sign up for time slots online. Staff will be wearing masks when interacting closely with patrons.

Recycling drop-off will start on June 10. A recycling trailer will be dropped off on Wednesdays and then picked up on Friday, or earlier if full.

“We’re hoping that will alleviate the recycling load,” Cederburg said.

The city hall will open for business on June 15, after safety barriers are in place. The building will be disinfected daily, among other safety measures.

The public restrooms at city parks will be opened and disinfected daily.

The Minden Area Sports Commission will be starting activities later in the month. For baseball, players will be spread out in the dugouts and any overflow will be seated in the bleachers. Seating will be limited to participants. Family and other spectators will be able to watch from vehicles or provide other seating.

Participants’ parents will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks involved in connection to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cederburg said the city council tabled a motion on a Fourth of July fireworks display until they have an action plan submitted for the event.

Overall, he said, the city is hoping to start returning to normal since the outbreak disrupted activities for Minden residents two months ago.

“The community is excited to bring some activities for children,” he said. “They’ve been out of school since March. We’re looking to bring some normalcy to our children’s lives again.”


Bigger footprint

The legacy of Bigfoot and related topics grew by leaps and bounds with the opening of the third wing in the Bigfoot Museum in Hastings Thursday morning.

Launched from the personal collection of Hastings resident Harriet McFeely in September 2018, the museum has expanded into a side building because of space constraints.

Features in the new wing include a life-size “Patty,” the subject featured in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film; and exhibits on Russian hominology, cryptozoology, casts, photos, skulls and other examples of creatures with ties to the controversial hominoid, whom some believe to be a hoax.

Certainly, McFeely and her supporters feel otherwise about its existence. items collected by McFeely aim to squelch the notion that Bigfoot is nothing more than a figment of overactive imaginations.

“What I want to do is to make visitors hungry and curious,” McFeely said. “I’ve been collecting stuff since I was 8. This is our heritage. This is our history.”

Guests with ties to McFeely’s museum and annual conference turned out to help celebrate the museum’s expansion. Among those introduced were explorer Don Monroe, Kenny Collins, Art Wach, Tyler Smart and Robin Wiese.

Monroe has donated some 100 items for display to the museum, including a stone head of “Naga Man,” a piece he discovered in 2001 while bear hunting in Anaconda, Montana. The carved head appears to show a snake on the face of the subject. It is a piece that has baffled the dozen or so scientists and experts who have examined it and have yet to pin down its age or origin.

“Your museum is outstanding,” Monroe told McFeely during his introduction. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Afterward, he reflected on the future of museums with regard to educating tomorrow’s youth.

“People tend to destroy everything they don’t understand,” he said. “Time is growing short to educate our people. Museums are going to be the only avenue we’re going to have, and there’s much to learn.”

Collins has had a hand in promoting Bigfoot for some time. In addition to his many contributions to the Hastings museum, he previously helped build another Bigfoot museum in Bailey, Colorado.

“It’s not about glorification, it’s about education,” he said.

McFeely’s museum is part of this year’s Passport Nebraska program, a Nebraska tourism tool to help draw people to exhibits across the state through a program that rewards those who visit the featured sites. The program was delayed by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, but launched June 1 and will continue through Oct. 31.

With the addition of the third wing, McFeely hopes to further educate those with an interest in Bigfoot. Whether they believe or not is irrelevant to her. Her objective is to put out information that enables them to make informed decisions about what they believe.

“This is definitely not a traditional museum,” she said. “Our whole goal from the very beginning was to be historical, educational and scientific. Everything we put in our museum we try to back up with pictures or artifacts that back up what we’re talking about.”