What you need to know about the coronavirus

June 15, 2020

On June 1, Columbia Association announced that outdoor pools would not open in 2020. Our members and residents have shared with us their disappointment, seeking to understand “Why is CA not opening the outdoor pools this summer?”

Included in many of your replies to the outdoor pools announcement were one or more of the following questions:  

  • Why not open a limited number of pools for limited times for limited participants?  
  • Why not open the pools for lap swim only?
  • Why are indoor pools reopening but not outdoor pools?
  • Why are other swim clubs in Howard County opening but CA is not? 
  • Why is CA charging me for membership when not opening the outdoor pools?
  • Why is CA able to open other facilities but not the outdoor pools?

Many of you told us how important the outdoor pools are to you. We understand! In fact, the importance of the CA outdoor pools as a community institution caused us to delay the decision as long as possible, seeking a viable way to open them. In the end, the decision to not open the outdoor pools this summer came down to these factors:

  • Timing of reopening regulations
  • Member satisfaction due to capacity restrictions
  • Cost and economies of scale

Timing of Conditions of Reopening 

Outdoor pools are generally open from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  The uncertain trajectory of the pandemic prevented public health officials from providing specific guidance on pool reopenings until after Memorial Day.

  • Until May 27, there was no guidance from state and county public health officials about what conditions pools would be subject to in order to reopen. For the safety of our swimmers we assumed the most stringent regulations, which would have involved very limited capacity, no open swim (i.e. lap swimming only), and swimming by reservation only.  Plans were created with a focus on opening 9 pools.
  • On May 27, the Maryland Secretary of Health released regulations for pool reopening that were very close to our working assumptions. Under these regulations, pools would only be allowed lap swimming due to social distancing requirements. Wading pools, splash pools and hot tubs would not be allowed to reopen. 
  • On April 23 and again on June 4, with these conditions in hand, the CA Board approved revisions to the operating budget that excluded outdoor swimming this year. All lifeguards and staff conditionally hired for the pools were notified on June 1 of the closures.
  • On June 11, the state issued updated regulations for Phase 2 reopening which allowed for increased capacity for pool facilities.  While the updated regulations permit recreational swim, pool capacity requirements remained unchanged (1 swimmer per 36 square feet of pool surface area).  

Member Satisfaction

We are concerned about the limited access and poor experience that members and guests would have with pools available to fewer swimmers. The capacity regulations would only allow each pool to serve approximately 30% of its normal volume of swimmers.  CA’s 23 outdoor pools have more than 400,000 visits in a typical summer.  Trying to fit this number of visits into a reduced number of pools, each with reduced capacity (one swimmer per 36 square feet of pool surface area) would produce several results:

  • Members who are unable to reserve a time to swim would be dissatisfied with paying for a membership that they are unable to use. 
  • Our young people seeking recreational swim would be restricted in numbers during each session, again, creating immense dissatisfaction.

Cost and Economies of Scale  

Each fiscal year, outdoor pools operate at a deficit. It is very expensive to operate not only one but all 23 outdoor pools.  The outdoor pools are heavily supported financially by CA (annual charge and non-annual income sources).  CA ceased billing and collecting all membership and user fees on March 18. To date, this decision has resulted in a loss of $7.5 million in revenue. 

  • It is quicker, more efficient and less expensive to open the indoor pools because: 
    • The infrastructure is already in place. Staff, security and unique requirements for serving members as a result of the pandemic are already in place, serving not only swimmers but also members using all of the other services in the fitness clubs.
    • Plus, indoor pools require fewer staff and we already have trained lifeguards available.  
  • To justify the cost of operating the pools, CA needs to be able to serve a large number of users. We can serve a larger number of users (swimmers and non-swimmers) in the indoor pools, which are readily available now and will open on June 20.

Finally, I realize that this difficult decision has disappointed many, including all of us here at CA. Please understand that our primary interest is the health and safety of our members and staff, and the long term ability to continue improving services to the Columbia Community with the resources you have entrusted to us. 

Thank you for your continued support of CA.  

Sincerely,

Milton Matthews

President/CEO

June 1, 2020

Dear Columbia Association Community,

Columbia Association (CA) has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and like each of you, we’ve had to adjust. Following is a summary of CA’s efforts to keep our community safe, a preview of changes in programming, and a brief discussion of the rationale for these changes. Because of our accountability to diverse stakeholders – most notably the residents and businesses who pay CA’s Annual Charge as well as members whose dues support CA facilities and programs – our decisions have been complex and difficult.

Keeping Columbia Safe

On March 15, CA closed all its facilities and canceled programming indefinitely. The CA board of directors and CA team members (employees) immediately began planning for reopening community venues and programs, while at the same time delivering essential services (open space maintenance) in a manner that did not endanger residents, members or team members.

Tough Decisions

Following Governor Hogan’s Maryland Strong 3 phase plan to reopen businesses, CA has modeled numerous approaches to reopening programs and facilities, depending upon the timing of reopening decisions at the state and county level.
  • We opened two outdoor tennis clubs and golf facilities on May 13, with training for staff and clear guidelines to keep members and staff safe. Hobbit’s Glen tennis remains closed for renovations to the clay courts.
  • We regret that we will not open outdoor pools or hold summer camps in 2020. We understand that this will deeply disappoint many of our residents and members. This decision was only made after careful consideration of all options available. (please read “Rationale” below)
  • Final preparations are underway now to safely reopen fitness clubs, the Columbia Swim Center, and the Long Reach Tennis Club when we receive approval from Howard County leadership, hopefully within the next several weeks.

Rationale for Tough Decisions

CA is a unique organization. We are a homeowners association serving more than 100,000 residents. We are also a membership organization serving nearly 60,000 members using our sports and fitness facilities and community services and programs (including summer camps, before and after school services, etc.). On February 20, the CA board approved FY 2021 (5/1/20-4/30/21) budget which included a projected operating income of $80M. With the March 15 closure of all CA facilities and programming indefinitely, leadership revised operating expenses to match the new reality. CA’s projected total income will be down 30% and non-Annual Charge income will be down 56%. This loss of income led to the difficult programming decisions outlined above, as well as the decision to layoff or furlough more than 90% of our team members (with the remaining ones taking pay cuts of up to 50%) and to reduce the FY 21 capital budget by 47% from $15M to $8M.
CA will continue to adjust as the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting economic crisis evolves. With your continued support, CA will thrive but, inevitably, it must continue to change to adapt to this new reality. Please forward your comments or questions to us.

Sincerely,

Andrew C. Stack
Chair, Board of Directors

Milton W. Matthews
President/CEO

Columbia Association will reopen golf and outdoor tennis facilities on May 13.

Hobbit’s Glen and Fairway Hills Golf Clubs will be open from 9am-4pm. Tee times can be reserved at Hobbits by calling 410-730-5980 or at Fairway by calling 410-730-1112.

Columbia Association’s Wilde Lake and Owen Brown Tennis Clubs will be open Monday-Friday from 8am-9pm and 8am-8pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations can be made online at Customer Service System.

New regulations have been implemented to protect players and CA Team Members from coronavirus transmission. Click here for more information.

Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter for more information on future reopenings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we’ve received from CA members and program participants since announcing these closings and cancellations. Should the closure extend beyond March 29, we will update these FAQs accordingly.

We’re all social distancing, but we’re all in this together. To help you stay active at home, Columbia Association is providing a dynamic variety of free video workouts (no equipment necessary). For daily fitness on the go visit the CA Facebook or CA Instagram.

Visit CA@Home to discover more.

We plan to reschedule classes, lessons and programs once we are able to reopen. If you are unable to attend the rescheduled activity, we will arrange for you to receive a credit or refund.

CA will ensure that members and program participants will be made whole for CA facility closures related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although membership invoices for the month of April will be sent as usual on March 20, we are working diligently with our software provider to reflect the current two-week closure. The invoices will either only include charges for two weeks (instead of the full month), or we will update accounts with two-week credits as soon as possible.

You may wish to freeze your membership. Please call CA’s Customer and Member Service Center at 410-730-1801 and leave a message.  A customer service representative will return your call within 48 hours. If you would still like to cancel, please consult the terms and conditions of your CA Membership Agreement.

Currently, all registrations for our summer swim teams are on hold.  We will make future announcements as information becomes available.

You may wish to freeze your membership. Please call CA’s Customer and Member Service Center at 410-730-1801 and leave a message.  A customer service representative will return your call within 48 hours. If you would still like to cancel, please consult the terms and conditions of your CA Membership Agreement.

While CA offices are closed due to coronavirus, all renewal notifications are being sent via email to members with valid email addresses.  If you did not receive an email, or have any questions regarding your renewal, please contact Member Services at 410-730-1801 or CMSC@ColumbiaAssociation.org . Click here to view our renewal rates.

Previous Posts

Below are previous posts made regarding the coronavirus.

Columbia Association is preparing to reopen two golf courses and two of its outdoor tennis facilities. 

Governor Hogan announced today that golf courses and tennis facilities would be permitted to reopen on May 7.  The safety of our members and staff is our highest priority.  Like many businesses preparing to reopen, CA is awaiting delivery of cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for staff. CA expects to announce a firm reopening date and guidelines for safely using its tennis courts and golf courses next week. The facilities that will reopen are the Hobbit’s Glen and Fairway Hills golf courses, Wilde Lake and Owen Brown outdoor tennis facilities.  

Are you over the age of 65? For extra support and peace of mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland Department of Aging is offering a free call service. It’s super simple: Just sign up here or by calling 1-866-502-0560 (open M-F 8 am-5 pm and Saturday 9 am-3 pm) for a daily call at a regularly scheduled time to verify your wellbeing. If three calls go unanswered, a contact of your choice will be notified. These calls will also provide learn more about relevant updates about COVID-19.

Dear Columbia Association Community:

First and most importantly, I hope all of you are healthy and staying safe by adhering to the guidelines and following the instructions provided by the Howard County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The fast-changing and growing magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust a significant portion of the global community into unprecedented times.

Here at Columbia Association (CA), following the closure of our facilities and the implementation of other health and safety measures in our open spaces, a small group of team members has been working, mostly remote, to maintain essential properties and perform essential administrative functions.

Like all organizations across industry sectors, CA is reviewing all of its finances – operating expenses and capital spending – to develop viable plans for the present and foreseeable future. As is the case with most service based organizations, CA’s largest operating expenses are personnel-related costs. We have been in frequent contact with our team members to address their questions and share with them our short-term compensation strategy.

Simultaneously, in these same messages to our team members, we have been straightforward in informing them that CA is daily confronting new scenarios that are impacting all of the organization’s resources since the closure of our facilities and cancellation of our programs and activities.

Columbia Association will emerge from these unprecedented times and thrive again in a post-coronavirus Howard County. Until then, we will continue in an environment where the organization, along with all of its resources – human, financial, systems, and policies – will be tested. To date, many of CA’s strengths have been on display, and, like all other organizations, we also have seen areas where improvement is needed; the latter, I am calling “opportunities.”The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the economic recession likely to follow, will transform CA as an organization. Pursuing the opportunities mentioned above will further transform CA; thereby putting the organization in a better position for the next 53+ years as a key community services provider and contributor to the exceptional “quality of life” in the Columbia community and beyond.

Again, stay healthy and be safe! All of us at CA look forward to welcoming you back soon, with a big smile, to our facilities and as participants in our various programs and activities.

Sincerely,

Milton W. Matthews
President/CEO
Columbia Association

Columbia Association Open Spaces team members will be returning to the field on Monday, March 30 to cut grass and do seasonal maintenance on some tot lots and playground amenities. Team members will be working individually or in small groups of 2-3 on a project. For the health and safety of both the open spaces staff and the public, they will be following strict social distancing procedures and prohibiting public access to work areas. Thank you for your cooperation.

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all Columbia Association facilities are closed until further notice. Stay tuned for updates during this fluid situation, and stay safe everyone!

In order to protect our patrons from COVID-19, all Columbia Association tennis and basketball courts have been closed until further notice.

Also, a reminder that all CA playgrounds and tot lots are closed until further notice. Please continue to use open space in other ways, like accessing our pathways while practicing safe social distancing.

At the recommendation of Howard County Government and County Executive Calvin Ball, Columbia Association is closing all playgrounds and tot lots until further notice as a health and safety precaution. This will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on surfaces as well as discourage children from playing in close proximity to one another. In the coming days caution tape and signage regarding this closure will be affixed to all play structures.

Please continue to use open space in other ways, like accessing our pathways while practicing safe social distancing.

All Columbia Association facilities are CLOSED and all programs, classes and events are CANCELED through Sunday, March 29 in order to protect our members, program participants and employees during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we’ve received from CA members and program participants since announcing these closings and cancellations. Should the closure extend beyond March 29, we will update these FAQs accordingly.

Dear Columbia Association Community,

Due to new local COVID-19 developments, all Columbia Association facilities will be closing effective 6pm today (Sunday, March 15, 2020) and will remain closed through Sunday, March 29, 2020.

This includes all sport and fitness facilities (fitness clubs, pools, tennis, ice skating, golf, Columbia SportsPark, etc.); all Community Services facilities including Columbia Art Center, Youth and Teen Center, and Columbia Archives; and Columbia DogPark, CA Headquarters and the Customer and Member Service Center. Additionally, all CA public programs, classes and events are canceled effective immediately through Sunday, March 29, 2020. A decision whether to extend these closures and cancellations beyond March 29 will be made as additional information becomes available.

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