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Fitness studios, gyms seek their socially distant stride

Socially distant gym equipment [Source: Jessica Meszaros]

For many businesses, Gov. Mike Parson’s initiative to enter the second phase of the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan on June 16 marked a continuation of the COVID-19 provisions that had already been implemented in many municipalities across St. Charles County.

Now, multiple fitness centers and gyms are opening and increasing their accessibility. Some already have had their doors open in a reduced capacity for the past few weeks, usually with a members-only admission caveat. Now, those locations are opening their doors and expanding their entry to members of the public, albeit with their own set of rules and safety provisions.

One example of an institution that has been opened in limited capacity is the Renaud Center, a 66,000-square-foot indoor recreation complex located in O’Fallon. The fitness center opened to members only on May 11 after being closed for the previous seven weeks.

On June 16, the Renaud Center expanded its services to daily pass holders and members of the public. The number of daily passes for use of the gym and fitness center available is still limited. The facility’s pool is open to members only via reservation.

According to Tom Drabelle, O’Fallon’s communications director, the Renaud Center used its temporary closure to deep clean the facility and address some routine maintenance that normally would be completed during a weeklong closure each fall.

“There were obviously a few projects we couldn’t [complete] because we hadn’t purchased the materials, but we tried to do a lot of our annual maintenance that we do every fall during that time,” Drabelle said.

Other changes include repositioning equipment in the fitness center and relocating some classroom programs into the larger gymnasium space. Plexiglass partitions have been placed at the front desk and other staff areas. Patrons should plan on bringing personal towels and water bottles as towel services and some water fountains will not be available. Members also are encouraged to wear masks while not working out.

“We’ve made accommodations throughout the building in order promote safety and health,” Drabelle said.

Summer tends to be a slower season but Drabelle noted that, since May 11, there has been a gradual uptick in attendance.

“You have other outdoor pools and facilities that people start to use around the city,” Drabelle said. “We’re still a little slower than normal summers, but we’re gradually catching up.”

One of those outdoor pools is the Alligator’s Creek Aquatic Center, which opened by reservation only on June 1. Instead of day-long sessions, the aquatic center offers three two-hour swim sessions by reservation. This allows staff to deep clean the pool area and side areas every two hours. 

In St. Peters, the 130,000-square-foot Rec-Plex initiated its first phase of reopening [to members only] on June 15. Fitness rooms are open during weekdays only with limited hours. The weight room, cardio theater, indoor track and adult locker rooms also are open to members only.

Exercise equipment has been spaced out and patrons will scan their own membership cards upon entering. Protective barriers are installed at the registration and front desk for the protection of staff. High-contact areas, such as doorknobs, countertops, light switches, handrails and exercise machines, are cleaned more frequently by staff and patrons are being asked to sanitize equipment before and after each use.

Water fountains are unavailable, but bottle filler stations are available for personal water bottles. Disposable cups also are provided. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the facility; however, items like towels and locks are unavailable. 

Activities that will remain unavailable through the first phase of the facility’s reopening include basketball, pickleball, volleyball, group aerobics, ice skating, freestyle skating, private ice lessons and drop-in hockey. Amenities like Tot Drop, Youth Fitness Room, the Finish Line Café, locker room showers, steam rooms and saunas also have been temporarily suspended through the first phase.

According to St. Peters’ Director of Communications Lisa Bedian, the biggest change to come is the completion of a major construction project that will update the Rec-Plex’s 25-year-old natatorium. Work on the pools will include replacing plaster and updating the water heating system. The deck tiles also will be vapor blasted and re-grouted. Maintenance planned for the pools, spa, plumbing system and surfaces includes rebuilding the spa’s pumps and filtration.

The goal is to have the natatorium and all other facilities open and activities reinstated by Sept. 1, although all future dates are tentative at this point in time.

“We’re taking things in phases,” Bedian said.

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