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Forsyth County discusses phased reopening of local parks
2WEB field and trees
Lanierland Park. - photo by Jim Dean

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At a recent work session, Forsyth County Commissioners and other county officials discussed the impact the novel coronavirus response was having on county departments and some of the ways county amenities may begin to reopen.

Reopening parks

County officials said one of the biggest questions from the public is when parks and recreation facilities would reopen.

Several parks facilities, including athletic fields, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts and picnic pavilions reopened on Friday, May 1. During the meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said the amenities would likely reopen in phases.

Those phases were tentatively discussed as going into effect on May 15, June 1 and June 15 but commissioners said that could change depending on what happens at the state level.

“I would be very careful communicating these out as hard dates,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson. “We have to be fluid in this if there is another change from the governor. If we've communicated out that these are the dates you can start doing some of these things, a lot of people take that as God's word. I think we really have to think in terms of our communication plan right now.”

The next phase would be to open recreation centers “with limited operation capacity per room.”

“So, less than 10 people per room social distancing, opening fitness programs and recreation centers where we can properly distance within the rooms that we have. Playgrounds, skate parks and dog parks [will also open],” Pryor said.

The third phase of reopening would be opening all recreation centers and community buildings to normal capacity, reopening Shady Grove campground to full use and opening the splash pad at Old Atlanta Park.

The last phase will open athletic fields for organized sports and other amenities.

“That would allow the booster clubs to get back in action and playing, then summer camps on June 15 for recreation, athletics, adventure programming and therapeutic recreation,” Pryor said.

No action was taken at the meeting, and commissioners said the county would communicate the reopenings to the public.

What staff had to say

To gauge how employees were being impacted by working from home and other changes due to the coronavirus, county officials had department leaders fill out a survey and discussed the answers at the work session.

“This went out to the departments we knew were working remotely at different levels,” said Chief Information Officer Brandon Kenney. “We wanted to gauge at what levels were our employees working remotely... What you'll see is roughly 80% [of those] asked, 50% or more were working remotely full time.”

Kenney said there were some issues with people learning to work online or dealing with lack of high-speed internet but most have not had to reduce services to the public and would be open to using more technology going forward.

“The vast majority indicated once again that they would consider remote work as a possibility when we get a little more back toward normal,” Kenney said.

Another survey was also taken to see what services the departments couldn't perform due to the outbreak, such as not holding public hearings, having building inspections with minimal contact and some departments no longer accepting cash for payments.

During the work session, commissioners also approved extending pay for employees at their normal rate, including those working from home, through Sunday, May 24.

Future meetings

During the meeting, commissioners also discussed the next steps for public hearings and public meetings but did not make any official decision.

At their meeting on Thursday, March 19, commissioners approved postponing zoning decisions, long-range plans for land development, proclamations and public hearings for 60 days since those items are what regularly bring public speakers and attendees.

The first meeting eligible for public hearings under the original decision would be Thursday, May 24, though commissioners have committed to holding meetings by teleconference and streaming services.

While no date has been set for commissioners' next public hearing, the county's planning commission will hold a meeting with public hearings via teleconference and streaming on Tuesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m.

Once commissioners' public hearings resume, items will come to them in the same order they were postponed and county staff will spread the items over several meetings so they are not brought up on the same evening.