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Owens Center Is Back, And The Peoria Park District Is Feeling 'Optimistic' About The Year Ahead

Owens Center is back open for business, and the Peoria Park District is trusting that this reopening will set the tone for 2021.

With COVID-19 mitigation measures being scaled back, Public Skate with limited capacity is now an option for those looking to get back on the ice. Owens Center had been closed since November, and missing the holiday rush and the financial boost that comes with it was difficult for General Manager Doug Silberer.

“Making the ice and keeping it running is an expensive proposition for the (park) district,” said Silberer. “We need every little bit of programming we can offer, so when we can’t offer our Public Skates, our normal learn-to-skate program, or (other) public skating, it really puts a big hit on us.”

Corey Reeff of Peoria attended Public Skate on the first day of reopening. His two children are taking private skating lessons at Owens Center and, thanks to the opening, Reeff and his family have something to do that is both fun and a learning experience.

“I think it’s a great opportunity with the kids going back to school full time,” said Reeff. “It gives us an opportunity to get out of the house and have some family time.”

The Peoria Park District has been dealing with COVID-19 in a variety of ways, from scaling back programming to reorganizing staff.

Executive Director Emily Cahill is hoping to use this time to reassess the role the district plays in the area, and identify ways it can better reach the people who need its resources the most.

“We’re also using this opportunity to really reimagine what our role is as a park district,” said Cahill. “Prior to the pandemic, our job was solely focused on getting as many people together in a space to do something fun together. That seems really scary right now...so we’re trying to think about ways that we can use our spaces and places to bring people together in safer ways.”

In the future, Cahill also plans to lead the charge on making programming more efficient, ensuring the district is not duplicating programs offered elsewhere and placing more emphasis on collaboration among facilities.

“If we have limited resources, we want to make sure that what we are providing is unique, high quality, and that, if it is something that’s duplicated somewhere else, we offer it because it makes it accessible on an equity level so that we’re able to serve people who might not otherwise be able to access that program,” said Cahill.

She emphasized that, from the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the park district has placed the health and safety of its employees and the community at the forefront. When it comes to the vaccine rollout, however, the district does not plan to require employees to be vaccinated in order to work.

Despite the challenges being faced across the district’s facilities and programs, Cahill is looking forward to the continued evolution of service in the Peoria area. In a time where there have been so many negatives, she is looking for the positive. 

“We really look forward to continuing to evolve to meet the changing needs of our community, and certainly COVID has pushed us to think about those things faster than we normally do as a public body,” said Cahill.“It’s a real opportunity for us to be a part of the positive and the great things that are happening in our community.”

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WCBU will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WCBU can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.