Step, touch. Step, touch. Instructor Mary Lawrence demonstrated the move for her cardio and strength training class on Thursday morning, set to a driving disco soundtrack.
“Let those arms swing!” Lawrence shouted from behind her face mask.
The rest of the class at the Firstenburg Community Center in east Vancouver followed suit, moving their bodies to the beat of the 1976 hit “Sunny” by Boney M. The class was at half-capacity, and so participants were spread widely across the Pollard Community Room with a generous 6 feet of space between them. All were wearing face masks, and most were senior citizens.
The group exercise class was one of many offerings to return to the Firstenburg and Marshall community centers this week, their largest step toward semi-normal operations in more than a year.
“It’s just so wonderful,” said Firstenburg Center Director Angela Brosius, who watched Lawrence’s class from the back of the room. “We just expanded everything a little bit.”
More relaxed restrictions under Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 reopening plan allowed Vancouver Parks and Recreation staff to expand classes, hours and activities. Higher capacity allowances – the centers can now allow up to 50 percent of their full patronage, compared to the previous 25 percent – also mean that patrons no longer need to register for a time slot online.
Marshall Community Center now offers 12 group exercise classes per week; Firstenburg offers 15. Patrons can resume pickup basketball games, a sport that had qualified as “high-risk” under the governor’s reopening plan and was restricted during Phase 2.
One-on-one services like personal training also picked up again this week. Firstenburg additionally extended its operating hours until 9 p.m.
The multifaceted expansion allowed the department to rehire furloughed staff, said Melody Burton, marketing manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation.
“Having adequate staffing is key to making sure programs are organized and folks visiting the facility have the support they need to adhere to changing protocols,” Burton said.
FIT Pass experiment
When COVID-19 hit, both community centers closed. They resumed limited operations around six months later using an online reservation system linked to a member’s pass. Since September, participants have needed to purchase a FIT Pass in order to secure an hour-long workout slot.
The system was always meant to be a temporary COVID-19 measure, and results were mixed. According to Brosius, the largest cohort of center visitors are over 65 years old and many struggled with the online registration system. A few staffers were tasked with taking reservations over the phone and then manually entering them into the online system, she said.
“While this was a workable solution for many people, the truth is that online reservation systems are not accessible to people who don’t have consistent internet service or have limited experience with technology,” Burton said.
Clark County entered Phase 3 on March 22. It took more than a month for Vancouver’s community centers to follow suit.
According to Burton, staff spent the time notifying pass holders about the change so that they were prepared for a more crowded gym. For those who weren’t ready to return, passes were placed on hold.
“We were really excited to be able to take this step toward full use of our facilities but we also needed time to prepare,” Burton said. “We also used this time to call back many of our recreation staff.”
Monday’s shift marked the first step toward phasing out the FIT Pass system, Brosius said.
Center access is still restricted to FIT Pass holders, but they don’t need to register online ahead of time for group exercise classes or use of the pool, track or fitness equipment (the exception is family swim time at Firstenburg, which still requires an online reservation. The Marshall pool is currently closed for repairs).
For a full list of classes and activities, visit the city’s website at cityofvancouver.us/parksrec/page/community-recreation-schedules.
To purchase or learn more about the FIT Pass, visit cityofvancouver.us/parksrec/page/fit-pass-faq.