The rule, which was unanimously approved in April by the ORC board, requires children younger than 12, or below the sixth grade, to be accompanied by a guardian 16 or older at all ORC facilities, including the City Pool, which is set to open Saturday for the summer.
“It’s strictly a safety rule, and I hope the public understands that,” Tommy Sink, ORC director, said Wednesday. “We were getting children dropped off [at the Ottawa Community Recreation Center/Goppert Building] as young as 5, and they’re staying here all day with no money, no food, and it was becoming an issue.”
After thorough discussion at its April meeting, the ORC board agreed an age requirement was necessary to ensure the safety of both its young and adult patrons, Sink said. An unattended child could, Sink said as an example, run onto a court during a basketball game and potentially injure the child, an adult or both. Such a potential, Sink added, wasn’t worth the risk and prompted the age requirement, which was enacted May 1.
In addition to not having enough staff for babysitting duties, Sink said, the unattended children often were too young to provide parental contact information in case of an emergency.
“It only takes a few kids to create an issue,” Sink said. “The board thought from its discussions that the responsibility we have is not to babysit these children, but to provide activities for them. It’s a very sensitive issue, and we talked long and hard about it. ... It was a tough call for everybody.”
While the rule will be enforced at all facilities, Sink said, ORC staffers will not be asking children for identification to prove their age. Sink added that he doesn’t think the policy will lessen the number of patrons using ORC facilities.
The Ottawa’s City Pool at Forest Park, 320 N. Locust St., which is operated by the ORC, is set to open noon Saturday, and also will be open Memorial Day from noon to 6 p.m.