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Splash Valley won't open this summer

KANKAKEE — When the Kankakee Valley Park District broke ground on the renovation of Splash Valley Aquatic Park this past November, it had no idea a global pandemic would impact its reopening.

Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the health concerns surrounding it have forced KVPD’s board to suspend the opening of Splash Valley. By a vote of 4-1, the board suspended the 2020 season even before it could start.

“I’m crushed,” said Dayna Heitz, KVPD executive director. “It’s something that we wanted to do since [the renovation] started. It was finally here, and COVID hit.”

Heitz said the district had to look at so many different aspects.

“Our top concerns are the safety of our patrons and staff, and how to provide an aquatic experience this summer without compromising the health, safety and well-being of all,” the board posted on its Facebook page on Friday. “As of [May 15], neither the Illinois Department of Public Health nor the governor has given direction on how pools will be impacted this summer or a timeline as to when we can expect the lifting of pool restrictions.”

Heitz said the renovations are projected to be completed by June 16, which would’ve given patrons a couple months of cooling off at Splash Valley during the summer’s hottest months.

“We’re still on target,” she said. “We will have to go ahead and open it and have a walk-through [with the contractor] and take possession.”

A June 16 completion date is pending should there be no setbacks due to weather or unforeseen construction issues, with latest date of completion set for July 1.

Required licensing by the Illinois Department of Public Health was also problematic with Splash Valley still under construction.The IDPH stated it wouldn’t do any licensing until Gov J.B. Pritzker’s March 21 stay-at-home order is lifted.

“Challenges and restrictions pose a problem for all aspects of aquatics,” read a statement from the parks department on the canceled season. “Decreased bather loads, patrons on deck, increase cleaning, no deck chairs, social distancing in lines (for the slides), concession or no concessions, limited locker room usage, 6 feet apart. We currently must comply with social distancing, size limitations and cleaning/disinfecting guidelines.

“Knowing that our work force will be significantly decreased due to health concerns and safety, as well as their position responsibilities go further than just life-threatening situations, now they must also focus their attention and eyes away from the water (their zone) to number of patrons in the facility and water, patrons on deck, social distancing issues, lines at the slides, continual and constant cleaning/sanitizing, etc.”

The IDPH hasn’t given any final guidelines for public pool operation, Heitz said, but it had discussed allowing facilities to operate at 25% capacity. For Splash Valley that would mean 339 people, including staff, would be allowed at the pool. It was also discussed that no deck chairs would be allowed. That just left too many obstacles to opening this summer.

“Can you operate at a 25% level?” Heitz said. “You can’t do it and be fully staffed. How do you do sanitizing and disinfecting throughout the pool? And that’s not talking the pool deck. What if a family of four shows up and we’re at 25% capacity? Would they wait around until they could go inside? How does it work?

With all the new restrictions the board said it wouldn’t haven enough lead time to conduct all the necessary training of staff to meet the maintenance standards to safely open Splash Valley.

“It is unclear how the Park District could open and comply with the strict limits on gatherings and other safety protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The decision of the Board of Commissioners was made in the best interest of the Park District and the community as a whole.”

Heitz said a week or two after the pool is completed and KVPD takes possession, it will do the required winterizing and close Splash Valley. It’s hopeful the pool will reopen Memorial Day weekend in 2021.

County's budget surplus erodes

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler made it his personal mission to help bring the county government out of its financial abyss.

After spending years with fund deficits, the county had a positive general fund balance of about $1.5 million on Dec. 1, 2019. However, like every other governmental body here and nationwide, revenue streams are drying up and hard questions are being faced as to how long the budget can withstand this fiscal onslaught.

At the recent Kankakee County Board meeting, Wheeler, R-Kankakee, informed board members the budget year — which began Dec. 1 — had a positive balance of $1.5 million with projections of that figure growing to $3 million by Nov. 30, 2020. The fund’s balance, however, is coming up short of those projections — particularly in the past two months — and the $36.4 million general fund budget now has a $1.9 million surplus.

While that figure is higher than where it began the budget year, officials know the financial world they are now living in is far different from the one which existed as little as three months or so ago. The reality is when sales tax reports and other taxing revenues from these difficult past few months are calculated, the county will be facing a far different reality.

Due to COVID-19 and the negative direction sales taxes and other income sources are traveling, the fiscal picture is becoming clear: Income will shrink.

“By June, we will be down to $1 million of general fund surplus. Sooner or later we will run out of room to navigate,” the chairman explained.

Wheeler and most likely the remaining 27 county board members are not interested in returning to the days of depleted budget so the time has come to place everything on the table, the chairman said.

He said if the county doesn’t act swiftly they may back themselves into a corner where the only way out is personnel cuts. That alternative, however, is not being discussed at this point and Wheeler noted that is a subject he is willing to acknowledge.

“The last resort is laying off employees,” Wheeler said.

Like most governmental bodies, personnel wages and benefits makes up about 70 percent of the county’s budget. The county employs 450 full-time workers and another 47 part-timers, noted finance director Steve McCarty.

“There are only so many other things that can be cut. We have a little cushion right now, but not much. Everyone understands this is a fluid situation.”

Wheeler agrees.

“We just don’t know how far we are going to go,” he said. “We will tighten our belts as much as we can. No one has seen anything like this before. There’s no playbook on this.”

Herscher Labor Day weekend celebration canceled

Daily Journal staff report

HERSCHER — This year’s annual Herscher Labor Day weekend celebration has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday afternoon, the announcement was made that the 100th celebration would be put on hold until Labor Day weekend 2021.

“After discussing all of our options regarding our Labor Day celebration, we have come to the difficult decision that this year’s Labor Day Celebration is canceled,” read a post on the Herscher Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

“Given the current global situation, we feel that we cannot give our 100th celebration the party that it deserves. Therefore, we will begin planning for our 100th celebration to take place Labor Day weekend of 2021.

“We thank you for your understanding and look forward to celebrating with you in 2021.”

It is the latest local festival to be called off in response to the coronavirus and state guidelines that limit social gatherings.

The Fourth of July festivities in Kankakee and Momence’s annual Gladiolus Festival set for August have announced their cancellations recently.

Manteno’s Golf Cart Parade set to be held in June was postponed to Aug. 21 to coincide with the village’s Rockin’ on the Square concert series show, should that event be held.

Last week, the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival Board and village of Bourbonnais postponed this year’s event set for late June.

“As the situation evolves, we will be able to make a more-informed decision at a later time. Until then, thank you for your patience, and be well,” festival organizers said in a news release.

Labor Day fireworks? City says no

KANKAKEE — Two weeks after the Kankakee City Council said it would not fund the annual Fourth of July fireworks show, they were asked by one of their event partners if having the event Labor Day weekend would be agreeable.

While the summer holiday was different, the answer was the same.

By an 11-3 vote at the conclusion of Monday’s council meeting, council members again stated health and financial issues would prohibit their support of the $15,000 show. A contract for a Labor Day fireworks show would have had to been signed by July 1.

Following the May 4 council meeting, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong informed the city’s partners on the July Fourth event — Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra, Kankakee Community College and Kankakee Valley Park District — the council voted to not fund the event.

At Monday’s meeting, she informed the council that the symphony organization inquired about having the fireworks show on Labor Day weekend in early September.

The council again declined. The mayor asked each representative their position and only Cherry Malone-Marshall, D-1; Mike O’Brien, D-2; and Danita Grant-Swanson, R-4, supported the fireworks display. At the meeting two weeks ago, only two council members, Grant-Swanson and Mike Cobbs, D-6, supported the expense.

Council members previously stated it was their hope the show would return in 2021.

The event is one of numerous summer events that have been canceled or postponed throughout Kankakee County. In recent days and weeks the Momence Gladiola Festival, Manteno’s Rockin’ on the Square Summer Concert Series, Bradley’s Fire Department Fish Fry and Bourbonnais Friendship Festival have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.