Alfond Youth Center reopens wellness center to public with new health guidelines due to coronavirus pandemic

WATERVILLE — Members of the Alfond Youth and Community Center were welcomed back to the wellness center and pool facility Saturday morning after the center closed down to the public for nearly three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The facility, located at 126 North St., will now operate under what staff is calling “the new normal.”

Karen Stewart of Waterville arrived at noon to use the lap pool that now has a capacity of one person per lane.

Before being allowed inside the building, Stewart was asked a series of health related questions and had her temperature taken.

“It’s tedious and not going to be easy but it’s better than not having the center open at all,” Stewart said about the center’s new safety requirements. “Life is very different and this is just going to take some getting used to.”

Anyone entering the center will have his or her temperature taken and will be asked a series of questions. No one with a temperature of more than 100.4 will be allowed into the building.

Additionally, employees and members of the center are now required to wear masks and face coverings inside the building in areas where 6 feet of social distancing is difficult to maintain.

The center has instituted additional safety precautions, including closing the locker rooms, installing directional markings on the floors and removing social seating.

Anyone looking to use the pools at the center must call ahead and make reservations, according to a press release sent out Thursday.

“I think it’s (the guidelines) very appropriate,” said Rebecca Quere of Waterville. “I’m just hoping for the best and I’m really glad to be able to get back into the pool.”

Zainab Salih, right, checks the temperature of coworker Darren Forkey at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville on Saturday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

When the center initially opened Friday morning, around 30 to 40 members came to workout or use the pool according to CEO Ken Walsh.

“During this time when the weather is nice, this is the down time for any wellness or fitness center,” Walsh said. “People keep their membership but the weather drives them outside. So for us, with the pandemic, to have 30 to 40 people show up on the first day of us being reopened, we’re extremely pleased.” 

When the center shut down to the public in March, it continued to provide meal services to children and families, childcare for healthcare workers and outreach programs.

All of the wellness programs like group fitness classes and martial arts, were moved to an online format, something the center plans to continue even while the center is reopened to the public.

“The neat thing is they’re (members) still used to the virtual exercise classes, especially our seniors,” Walsh said. “They’re in a routine now and you know what, that may be the new normal that we’re looking at as far as providing programs …”

Walsh said that keeping the online programs available is part of how the center is prepared to deal with the coronavirus in the future.

“We’re prepared, if this bounces back in the fall, we already have systems in place to be able to continue to serve the community,” Walsh said.

Even with the online options available, members have been itching to get back into the facility according to Wellness Director Sawyer Boulette.

Boulette said she’s heard from many members who have expressed their excitement about returning to the center.

“Our press release went out Thursday and we had a lot of people tell us through social media and we’ve gotten a lot of calls, people just telling us how excited they are to come back,” Boulette said.

According to Boulette, members have been more than understanding when it comes to the new safety guidelines.

Cooper Hachey, 8, relaxes in the weightlessness of the water while swimming Saturday at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It’s the new normal,” Boulette said. “We haven’t had any complaints. I think everyone is so used to the process of going out and wearing their masks and waiting in line so we haven’t had any type of negative feedback. If anything we’ve had positive feedback.”

For Boulette, having the center closed for three months was a learning curve, but one that taught staff how to be more innovative with their mission of serving children and families.

“I don’t think we ever looked at it like it was a negative thing,” Boulette said. “From the beginning we looked at different ways to be creative and innovative and we did some things that we normally wouldn’t do like having those virtual classes.”

Walsh shared similar sentiments.

“The challenging part of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the change of how we operate, the exciting part was how the community rallied and the staff rallied,” Walsh said. “We kept the majority of the staff employed and we really worked through this. We’re constantly looking for new avenues to change the way we operate for the best interest of the community. It’s only made us stronger and we’re really excited about where we’ll be in the future.”

For Walsh, opening the center back up means more than just providing the community with a place to exercise.

“The difference between us and regular fitness centers, this is a family oriented organization,” Walsh said. “When people sign up here they’re part of a mission, they’re not just here to work out. Some are, but we work hard to get the message across that you’re helping out the entire community with our mission …” 

Part of the center’s mission to help the community includes its meal program which normally serves more than 85,000 meals and snacks annually. But with the coronavirus pandemic, the center has served more than 35,000 meals from March 16 to June 4 alone.

Walsh said the efforts from staff to be more innovative and continue serving meals has paid off. While the facility was closed, 80% of members keep their memberships with the center.

The center’s new summer hours are:

  • From 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., the center will be open to the general public.
  • From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., members of the staff will clean the facility.
  • From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the center is reserved for senior citizens and at-risk individuals
  • Access to the general public resumes from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend hours for the summer are from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Capacity limitations for the wellness center have been set at:

  • One person per lane in the lap pool.
  • One person per lane in the therapy pool
  •  Ten people in the group exercise gym.
  • Five people in the spin studio.
  • Ten people on the walking track.
  • Twenty people in the fitness center and studio.
  • Three people in the workout lounge.
  • Ten people in the outdoor fitness area

Those looking to use the lap pool, therapy pool, outdoor fitness area or gyms must make reservations.

The karate dojo, dance studio and Gronk Zone are open for scheduled classes, with no walk-in use allowed.

More information on the center’s hours and programs can be found at

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