WILMINGTON, MA — No Memorial Day Parade. No Fun on the Fourth Celebration. And now no swimming at Town Beach this summer.
At Monday night’s Board of Selectmen Meeting, Town Manager Jeff Hull announced that Wilmington’s Town Beach will NOT open this summer due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not an easy decision to make as many Wilmington residents, and friends and family of Wilmington residents, have used the beach at Silver Lake as a great spot to gather and cool off from the summer heat,” wrote Hull in a memo to the Selectmen. “The safety of patrons who attend the beach and our staff is paramount.”
Wilmington Recreation Director Karen Campbell also provided Selectmen with a memo about the beach’s closing, citing a bevy of staffing and safety concerns.
“We currently have 10 returning lifeguards. We need at least 15 — 20 is best — to be staffed for the summer. There are currently no certification classes being offered. The position has been posted since January and there’s only been one inquiry, and that person is not yet certified,” wrote Campbell. “And do these 10 guards even still intend to return this summer? Will their parents want them to be faced with increased job requirements and exposure to the general public?”
Campbell questioned how the lifeguards would truly be able to enforce social distancing requirements and keep people away from each other, especially with so many young children at the beach and playground.
“Our swimming area is very small — how are people kept at a distance from one another? Some towns are adding police details to help enforce new rules, but would Wilmington Police have the bandwidth to assist at the beach?” questioned Campbell. “Would lifeguards be required to enforce social distancing? Would staff levels need to increase to monitor social distancing as well as to ensure water safety?”
Campbell expressed uncertainty that the town would be able to secure the required PPE for the beach’s staff, and wondered how masks would hinder lifeguards, whom often need to blow whistles, yell and stay hydrated. She also pointed out that the Health Department will not allow the Bath House to open during the COVID-19 pandemic, so public restrooms would not be available, possibly resulting in unsanitary conditions for beachgoers.
Campbell also expressed a financial concern, noting that the beach operation is funded through the money the Recreation Department takes in. Recreation funds are lower than normal this year due to the cancellation of many of the department’s spring programs. Many summer programs will likely cancelled as well.
Last year’s beach salaries totaled $50,000, and this year’s salaries were already set to rise due to a minimum wage increase. Additional staff would likely be needed to enforce social distancing rules, according to Campbell. An increase in staffing and supply costs, coupled with a significant decrease in revenue, would be “a large burden” to the Recreation Department.
Campbell noted Wilmington was “not alone” in making this decision — many communities across the state are closing their lakes, pools, and splash pads for the summer due to COVID-19 safety concerns. She’s on a conference call with her peers on a weekly basis.
Hull clarified that “swimming at your own risk” will NOT be permitted. Hull believes allowing any swimming would lead to large gatherings on the beach that would result in police responses. Also, Hull noted that all drownings at the lake over the years have occurred during times when the beach was not monitored by lifeguards.
Hull added that the beach parking area is also closed until further notice.
Hull indicated he wanted to make the decision now, rather than wait, to give as much notice as possible to the lifeguards and gate attendants so they can pursue other employment options.
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