On Sept. 23, Fairfield University students received an email from the Office of Student Engagement’s “#TheWeekender” newsletter, which stated that “Due to overcrowding and lack of social distancing and masks, the capacity of the weight room has been significantly reduced.”
The email lacked specific details and also inaccurately publicized that capacity limits were adjusted in other areas of the facility, according to director of recreation at the Leslie C. Quick, Jr. Recreation Complex, Eli Olken-Dann.
He stated that the “#TheWeekender’s” inaccuracies in the update on the RecPlex COVID guidelines simply reported outdated policies. Moreover, the weight room is the only space in the RecPlex which still has a COVID-related capacity limit.
In an email sent to faculty and staff on Aug. 23, the University recommended that indoor space capacities be reduced to 75 percent of what they were before the pandemic, according to director of recreation Eli Olken-Dann.
He explained that in an abundance of caution, the RecPlex reduced the capacity of the weight room, which normally holds about 50 people, to 25. However the capacity was quickly increased to 30 as students repopulated the campus.
Last week, the weight room saw another capacity increase, this time to 35 people in the area, due to what Olken-Dann observed as students’ respect for the rules.
In the weight room there are 35 combined pieces of strength training equipment, including selectorized and plate loaded machines, in addition to free weights. Olken-Dann and the rest of the recreational staff deemed this capacity as a “sweet spot,” allowing for one machine per person.
Despite the weight room’s capacity limit being as high as it has been in many months, students report facing long wait times, creating frustration.
The RecPlex reports proactively engaging with students in waiting, and encouraging them to use other equipment while they stand by.
Some students have acquired external gym memberships because of the RecPlex’s safety protocols. Senior Brett McGrath weighed in on how large crowds and long lines drew him to work out off-campus.
“I decided to get a gym membership elsewhere because it is more convenient to be able to go whenever I want without waiting in line like at the RecPlex,” said McGrath. “I try to go to the gym in between classes and having to factor in an unknown amount of time to wait in line doesn’t seem logical.”
Similarly, Allison Krekoska ‘22 followed suit.
“It was already hard to find time in my schedule to go to the gym, nevermind having to wait for equipment then having to cut my time short at the gym,” she added that, “Masks were also pretty frustrating when it came to the gym, especially when running, so I opted to go to a gym that does not require masks and all equipment is up for use.”
Olken-Dann realizes that some students may turn to other gym establishments, however his loyalty to the RecPlex reigns true.
“In my opinion, the RecPlex is a top-notch recreational facility, equivalent or greater to anything that students may find off-campus,” he said.
Increased wait times were arguably inevitable, as the University population is growing each year. This trend was anticipated by the RecPlex, and taken into consideration.
“Due to the fact that we had the largest incoming freshman class in the school’s history, we felt it was important to provide as much opportunity and space for students to engage in the RecPlex as possible,” said Olken-Dann.
To accommodate a growing community, workout classes are held daily and are open to all students for registration.
Additionally, approximately 80 pieces of cardio equipment are at the student body’s disposal, as well as the multipurpose studios which can comfortably be used by about six people.
According to the recreational staff, the busiest times are between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. No matter the time of day, capacity counts are updated every fifteen minutes by RecPlex staff and can be found on the Fairfield University app to avoid long lines.
Student monitors regularly patrol all areas of the RecPlex to ensure that COVID guidelines are being followed.
To create a space that protects the health and safety of the RecPlex’s patrons, the facility employed various changes throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, however at the beginning of this year these restrictions have eased up in conjunction with many of the University’s other COVID restrictions.
Last year Fairfield University gauged the Coronavirus risk on campus using status levels, and as case numbers rose, these levels would change. Once status levels reached “Code Orange,” intense mitigation strategies were implemented to keep cases at bay, which included the closure of the RecPlex and “all associated club sports and intramurals,” per the Vice President of Student Life Karen Donahue.
Though many procedures and guidelines have changed at the RecPlex this year, masks are still mandated in all indoor spaces on campus, including the RecPlex. This in accordance to the Town of Fairfield’s indoor mask policy, instituted on Aug. 23, 2021.
Though the mask mandate has been a point of contention on campus, not all students are adverse to wearing masks while working out.
“It’s a bummer that we have to wear masks,” said Nicholas DiStefano ‘24, “ but whatever the University mandates, we have to do. If we’re vaccinated, I don’t feel like I need to wear it but I still will if it’s the rule.”
Junior Claire Bellucci commented, “The RecPlex is a great place to go and destress. I think the classes are so fun and helpful. I don’t mind wearing the masks too much because the gym gets so packed.”
Sophomore Matthew Delaney is more bothered by these mandates. “I thought getting vaccinated would help get rid of masks quicker, especially in the gym. When I’m working out, it’s hard to breathe in fresh air when I have the mask on,” he said.
As of right now, “The hot tub, water fountains, towel service, and yoga mats will not be available until further notice,” per the Fitness and Recreation page on Fairfield’s official website.
Students can stay up to date with the RecPlex’s COVID by visiting fairfield.edu.