It’s shortly after 4 a.m. when Nick LaVelle pulls into the South Hardin High School parking lot. He strolls to the door, swipes his key fob and walks down the hall, up the stairs and to the weight room. It’s his hour of Zen.
“This is just my opinion, but I do think there’s a mental aspect of people being able to get back into the gym and people that really enjoy doing it being able to do it,” LaVelle said. “It’s nice to have an hour when you don’t have to think about (COVID).”
Part of the reason LaVelle and others can enjoy the fitness facilities at the high school and at Hubbard-Radcliffe Middle School in Hubbard is because LaVelle and the other E-NP and H-R school board members voted in October to reopen the facilities to the public. Previously the weight rooms and walking track were closed to all but students amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
The boards and Superintendent Dr. Adam Zellmer insisted that safety measures be put in place to ensure the safety of both the public and the students using the facilities. The gyms are only open to the public during specific hours before and after school and they are cleaned by custodial staff in the morning after exercisers depart and again in the evening.
“We are not supervising when students are not there, just making sure we get into clean after the hours are complete for public so ready for our student usage with our Hydrostatic Spraying System,” Zellmer said.
In addition to cleaning between sessions, the districts have provided cleaning supplies and instructions for students and the public while using the facilities.
“We’ve implemented basically these pails that dispense sanitizing wipes and there’s a few of those set up along with regular hand sanitizer and then they have spray bottles with sanitizer mixed in,” LaVelle said. “Obviously, the cleanliness has ramped up.”
Anyone using the facilities is required to sign a hold-harmless waiver to relieve the schools of any liabilities regarding COVID-19. Zellmer said the usage of the facilities is similar to what it was before the pandemic. Around 35 people are using the fitness centers combined and another 40 or so are utilizing the walking track in Hubbard.
“We have had to work to adjust a few of the items we have done and reprioritize to do some things every day and some things on a more rotational basis,” Zellmer said. “Our kids are also doing a great job of putting up chairs, cleaning up their area each day to allow for easier cleanup each night.”
LaVelle said while he’s enjoying the opportunity to get back into the gym, he’s also happy the community can do something positive.
“It’s nice to be able to say ‘yes’ to something,” Lavelle said. “We have to take the right safety protocols for the people using it and for the school, but if you’re doing that, it’s nice to tell people it’s open and you can come and utilize it.”
He said he’s very comfortable working out at South Hardin High School because of the safety procedures they’ve adopted and he’s witnessed fellow exercisers follow.
“I’m out in the public a lot and I wear my mask where it’s required and anywhere it’s full of people,”LaVellle said. “I just follow all the things they try to ingrain in our brains. We don’t have the whole town in there so it’s not a packed house. I feel pretty confident in just doing the things that are common sense.”
Health professionals have reported that obesity and poor health, along with age, can be contributing factors to the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients. LaVelle, noting that he’s not a doctor, said having the gyms open can’t hurt when it comes to community health.
“I feel like doing the exercise and being as healthy as you can is a bonus in itself when you’re going against any kind of sickness,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s got any weight when you go around against COVID, but I think being healthy overall is probably a bonus overall.”
With increased safety protocols and limited hours, the reopening of the gyms has been successful, but it’s not guaranteed without continued diligence.
“We want to make sure not only to keep it safe, but to make sure that we can keep it open,” LaVelle said.
The high school fitness center is open to the public on weekdays 4-5:45 a.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. and weekends from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. The middle school fitness center is open weekdays from 3-6 a.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. and weekends from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m.