Grand Valley State University’s Recreation center has been a desolate and empty place during the pandemic, but that all changed last week as the center was able to re-open under guidelines put in place by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The gym looks a lot different than it did back in March, now filled with hand sanitizing stations, more wipes to clean equipment and attendees grunting through a face mask as they lift some weights.
Understandably, the gym is not as packed as it usually is this time of year, partially because they are only allowed to operate at 25% capacity.
Meghan Pynnonen, assistant athletic director for the Rec Center and Pool, has been happy with a consistent student turnout, and feels prepared with 120 student employees returning to help.
“We have had a steady turnout that we continuously monitor to ensure we are within the 25% capacity guidelines outlined in the state executive order allowing gyms to re-open,” Pynnonen said. “We have seen less users than previous fall semesters, which we expected with less students coming to the Allendale campus daily.”
Isabell Binkley, a senior majoring in sports management and business, is beginning her fourth year working at the gym and has never seen it as vacant as it has been for her normal shifts.
“It was a little different,” Binkley said. “Normally when I work at the Rec, it’s one of the busiest places on campus, so it’s very weird coming in and only seeing one person on the treadmill, versus having them all taken up normally.”
Those who enter the gym are required to wear a mask, which has not gotten many complaints from visitors as Pynnonen expected.
“We occasionally have to remind students to keep their mask in place, but have not received too many complaints regarding that requirement,” Pynnonen said. “Students are mostly excited to be back in the Rec even if that requires a face mask at this time.”
The Rec Center has been a huge part of Binkley’s life throughout her college career, and while the gym is not as packed as it usually is, she said it felt nice to get back into a routine with the gym’s re-opening.
“It makes me feel more normal,” Binkley said. “I get up, I go to the gym and then I go to class. I work there 25 hours a week, and I always have. I have pretty much lived in that gym, whether it be working or working out, so it makes me feel a lot more normalcy in life.”
Pynnonen also feels a sense of normalcy with the gym returning, as she and her staff are happy to serve the community of students who have been itching to work out safely since March.
“Our whole purpose is to serve students and without them here it just was not the same,” Pynnonen said. “Our staff has been diligently planning for re-opening for six months. Our plans have continuously been updated and altered throughout the planning process to make sure our re-opening plan meets and exceeds all CDC, state, local and university guidelines.”
Pynnonen can see the smiles underneath students’ masks as they enter the gym, as they start to feel that sense of normalcy in returning to a place where many find peace.
“We are so glad to be able to support the physical and mental health or our campus community,” Pynnonen said. “We are seeing a lot of excitement from students being able to walk through our doors again.”