Detroiter Clyde Burgess plays cards with a staff member at the Farwell Recreation Center on the city’s east side. Burgess has been coming to Farwell for over 50 years and missed playing cards there with his friends during the COVID-related closure.

The City of Detroit reopened four of its recreation centers this week after closing them down 18 months ago amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Morae Cochran, the recreation center supervisor at the Adams Butzel Complex on the city’s west side, said she and her staff are excited to finally be open again. 

“We’re excited to continue on with the programs to bring people out of the home and get that social interaction that is very much missed right now,” Cochran said. 

Shortly after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first COVID-19 cases in Michigan in March 2020, Cochran and her staff began passing out food at the rec center. 

“It was a scary time, and there was a lot of uncertainty, so we wanted to make sure everyone had some food to eat and could get at least a meal or two from us every day,” she said. 

Byron Spivey, a recreation center supervisor with the City, said the food giveaways at the start of the pandemic were a “bittersweet” way of connecting with the community.

“I think we touched a lot of people with that food that was given away because we handed out food for hours and hours, and we were always out of food at the end of the day, so I know it was needed,” Spivey said. 

Detroiter Torrie Bell has been coming to the Adams Butzel rec center for the last 30 years. She said she is happy to be able to come to her “community gathering space” again.

“Rec centers are so important, and this place is so important to me because everyone needs that place to gather and exercise and just relax with their community,” Bell said. 

In the 18 months since it closed, the Adams Butzel Complex  underwent $4.2 million in improvements, including a new HVAC system, new pool filter equipment, new pool deck, and locker room and lobby renovations. 

Bell said while Adams Butzel was closed, she felt like she was cooped up in her house. When she saw the changes to her favorite rec center, she couldn’t believe how new everything looked.

“When I walked in, even when I drove through the parking lot, I could tell (the City) worked hard on getting this place renovated. I haven’t ever seen it look so new. I can’t wait to go swimming here,” she said. 

The Patton Recreation Center on the city’s southwest side, which also reopened this week, saw $900,000 in improvements, including renovation of the dance room, refinishing of the gym floor, new LED lighting, and a new irrigation system. 

The Lasky Recreation Center and Farwell Recreation Center also reopened this week. 

Clyde Burgess has been coming to the Farwell Recreation Center on East Outer Drive for more than 50 years. Burgess mostly comes in to play card games, and when the center was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he would play outside. 

“I would still come here to play, but I’d hang out with some guys under those trees by the street and play there,” Burgess said. 

When the winter months came, Burgess would play outside in the park next to the rec center. He said he’s glad to be back inside playing cards with his friends and feels safe doing so.

“I had my shot, I’m pretty sure all the staff had their shots, and everyone has a mask inside, so I’m not worried about getting sick when I come here,” he said. 

Rosalind Currie has been working for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation for 20 years. Currie didn’t start at Farwell originally, but was here last year when the City shut down the rec centers. Currie said everyone working there is taking COVID-19 protocols seriously. 

“Once you walk in, we encourage everyone to use hand sanitizer, we enforce strict mask rules, and while we’re happy to see everyone again in person, you should stay home if you feel sick,” Currie said. 

For people that are still worried about the pandemic, Currie said, “If you wear your mask and do what you’re supposed to do, everything is going to be all right.”

The city’s rec centers offer classes and programs like swimming lessons, boxing classes, senior citizen exercise classes, weight training and dance classes. You can find more information about specific classes at rec centers across the city at the Department of Parks and Recreation website

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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