If the City is unable to use District 65 buildings for its summer camps program as officials have done in the past, could the Levy Senior Center be pressed into service, giving seniors more time to receive testing and other resources as the most vulnerable population to Coronavirus?

While by no means a done deal, Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director, told community members at a Fifth Ward community meeting April 29 that is one of the ideas on the table as officials consider various scenarios for what summer programs will look like when if they start up.

Mr. Hemingway said he and his staff are considering different contingencies to provide summer program, once the Governor’s shelter-at-home order is lifted and activities resume again.

With the City’s popular summer camps program, which was scheduled to begin June 8, officials are considering options that would push back the start of the program to later in the month; limiting the registration of participants to comply with social distancing standards; and even running some camps, such as in the arts and theater areas, as “virtual” camps, with participants going on line two hours a day and absorbing lessons that way, Mr. Hemingway said.

City staff has not settled on an option, Mr. Hemingway said in his presentation at the meeting, held remotely over Zoom because of social distancing constraints.

“So, our staff is putting together these options based upon getting some form of guidelines, but we can’t wait until we get the guidelines to start working,” he said, explaining the dilemma officials face, preparing for a recovery.

 One big question officials are waiting for an answer on is, “will District 65 allow us to run summer camps out of their buildings?” he disclosed.

“We don’t have an answer to that — neither does the Y [McGaw YMCA], YOU [Youth & Opportunity United]  or any of the other partners that utilize the school buildings during summer to provide programmatic options to the community,” he said.

He said a meeting was scheduled with District leadership on April 30. “And they’re waiting on state guidelines to give us,” he said.

If the City cannot use the District buildings, he said moving some of the programs to the Levy Senior Center at 300 Dodge Ave., is one of the possibilities being considered. 

Currently, the City uses six or seven District buildings during the summer for camp use, he said.

With the senior population the most vulnerable to Coronavirus, a delay in restarting up the Levy Center with its focus on seniors would give that population and the community more time to get testing in place as “well as other resources that are needed to full support that community,” Mr. Hemingway said in response to a question about that plan.

He stressed, “By no means is that a done decision.”

 “But that’s what my thinking is,” he said, explaining: “If I’m not allowed to program summer camp and utilize the District’s buildings, you’re talking several hundred kids with no option [of a place] to go, and we’ve already got to reduce the number of kids that we’re going to program in our existing buildings.

“So, it’s a fine balancing act,” he said. “We want to give the best service and provide the best opportunities we can, and if this keep seniors home a few more extra weeks, so the community can get its hands around how we operate in post-pandemic world with the seniors being the most vulnerable, that’s the reason why I would consider such a thing.”

In his presentation, Mr. Hemingway indicated that similar uncertainties surround reopening the City’s outdoor athletic facilities and the beaches.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, chairing the meeting, asked about the tennis courts.

Mr. Hemingway said all of the City’s athletic courts, tennis and basketball, remain closed. “You can make the argument that tennis is a socially-distance sport but there is concern about the disease being transmitted as the balls are being touched, people being active,” he said, so right now the City has made the decision to keep all of its tennis courts closed as well as its basketball courts.

The City’s golf course will be allowed to open May 1, he said, with personnel at Canal Shores, the public golf course that runs through Evanston and Wilmette, preparing for an opening.

Mr. Hemingway said the beaches “potentially” could open June 20.

 “Again, that’s tentative, we don’t know,” he said. “But we are doing what we can as a department so hopefully if things open up that will be the goal.”

But like so many things, “they will look different than what they have in the past,” he told his audience. “Our guards will be actively making sure the participants on the beach practice social distancing; we want to put up signage about the guidelines on which the beach will be operating. And up until just earlier today, we were trying to work a strategy for a digital beach token.”

Underscoring the uncertainty, Mr. Hemingway said as recently as that day, his department had a “very fruitful discussion” with the City officials working on reopening strategies. 

“But no one has the answer,” he said. If the Governor were to come out and extend his stay-at-home-and-shelter order for another 30 days, the City would likely have to cancel the summer camp program altogether, he said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.