Reston Community Center reflects on pandemic upheaval in new annual report

Families participate in a masked, socially distanced Easter activity at Reston Community Center’s Hunter Woods facility (via Reston Community Center/Facebook)

(Updated at 8:55 a.m. on 6/25/2021) The threat of COVID-19 is starting to dissipate, but some of the changes that the Reston Community Center implemented in response to the pandemic could be here to stay.

Despite the expenses associated with video production, the community center will continue to offer some hybrid programming going forward, letting people choose whether they want to participate in person or virtually, RCC Executive Director Leila Gordon says.

Gordon told the RCC Board of Governors when it met on June 7 that the reservation system put in place for drop-in activities after the community center reopened in July 2020 could also become a permanent fixture.

Before RCC started requiring reservations, some programs would attract more people than they could accommodate, leading to “squabbles” over space in a water aerobics class, for example, in the Terry L. Smith Aquatics Center lobby, according to Gordon.

The new system, which requires attendees to get a pass in advance, has alleviated those issues.

“This system now allows people to pick the time they want to come, to be assured that there will be space for them,” Gordon said. “They make a kind of appointment and commitment…So, some of those innovations are things that we will keep.”

Even with facilities closed for more than three months and many programs, including summer camps, canceled, RCC’s June 2021 Annual Report suggests this past year was a busy one, as staff continuously adjusted to the ever-changing conditions introduced by the pandemic.

RCC used the lull in on-site activities to address a host of capital projects, including minor upkeep that is normally confined to a two-week maintenance period each August.

Projects tackled in the last year include:

  • A CenterStage renovation that put in a new carpet and an assistive listening system, while completely replacing the existing seating with the addition of 260 new seats
  • RCC Lake Anne Wellness Studio floor replacement
  • New safety features, such as clearer step delineation, and a new carpet for the Hunter Woods pool overlook
  • Installation of new meeting room dividers at RCC Hunter Woods
  • Installation of 12 data ports across the Lake Anne and Hunter Woods facilities to support livestreaming

RCC also tackled most of the remaining tasks on its aquatics center renovation, most recently replacing gutter grates in a process that was completed last Friday (June 18).

Gordon says the center will be closed for about 12 days at the end of August so the contractors can put in the final touches, including applying a protective coating to the gutter’s cement ceiling and calibrating the dehumidification unit.

RCC’s other priorities for the past year included supporting its community partners, maintaining communications with staff and patrons — particularly older individuals who might have felt especially isolated — and adapting programs and events to online or socially distanced settings.

According to the annual report, attendance in RCC programs and facilities plummeted from 188,633 participants in 2019 to just 52,056 in 2020. The loss of arts and events programming had the biggest impact, dropping from 103,975 to 6,163 participants, but there was a decline in all categories except for aquatics, since the center was closed in 2019 for renovations.

The community center wasn’t completely out of commission, however.

Staff live-streamed 16 events and produced 42 videos with performances, lectures, and craft lessons for RCC’s YouTube channel, along with recordings of board meetings. 1,655 people attended the outdoor, socially distanced concerts that RCC managed to put on in August, and more than 700 people attended seven concerts held at Reston Town Center over the winter holiday season.

Reston Community Center’s summer concerts are back for 2021, including the Summerbration Fab Friday series at Reston Station (via Reston Community Center/Facebook)

Gordon says RCC is excited that the COVID-19 vaccines have enabled a resumption of more normal operations, including a full slate of summer concerts and the return of summer camps at reduced capacities. The center has also started seeing an uptick in private rental activities.

“The level of uptake of vaccination in Fairfax County has been tremendous, and it has created the kind of psychological and physical safe space you want there to be around people coming back,” she said.

Looking ahead, RCC’s major projects include a strategic planning process and a website redesign, which Gordon anticipates will take about nine to 10 months. Staff held a kickoff meeting with the project’s design team yesterday (Wednesday).

Overall, Gordon says the past year was challenging but gave RCC an opportunity to reflect and find ways to improve how it serves the community.

“We looked for every way we could to make the best use of the time and the resources that we had available to us,” Gordon said. “…Keeping your eye on the future and keeping your heart on your people and keeping your channels of communication open were the benchmarks for us for the whole year.”

Photo via Reston Community Center/Facebook (1, 2)

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