Cities in Waterloo Region and Guelph spent close to $30,000 closing playgrounds last weekend after the provincial government’s short-lived decision to shutter them amid an escalated COVID-19 shutdown.
The area’s biggest city, Kitchener, was also the costliest, as signs and caution tape were quickly erected on area playgrounds to support the order issued by Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
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“Staff and equipment costs are estimated at just under $16,000,” Kitchener spokesperson Shawn Falcao told Global News in an email.
“It’s estimated about $5,000 was spent on signage, caution tape, and other materials. This supported the closure and reopening of around 220 play areas across the City and the closure of around 70 basketball and tennis courts.”
He said that “the city tracks these expenses as COVID/pandemic related and will be using safe start funding that was provided by the province to help cover the cost.”
Down the road in Cambridge, the smaller city spent about a third of what Kitchener did.
“In accordance with Provincial restrictions announced last Friday, the City of Cambridge spent approximately $4,500 on staff, fleet and signage over last weekend to close and reopen the city’s 70 playgrounds,” Cambridge spokesperson Allison Jones said.
“These costs are paid through funding from the province.”
Waterloo spokesperson Cari Van Niekerk confirmed that the province is footing the bill for the short-term closure of the playgrounds.
“The City of Waterloo spent approximately $3,000 on staff time and supplies, closing 70 playgrounds to meet provincial restrictions on the weekend,” she said.
“When playground reopening was announced late Saturday, the work stopped and staff waited until regular Monday shifts to remove signs and caution tape to reopen those spaces.”
The City of Guelph told Global News that its costs came to around $5,000.
A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark noted that the province has provided the cities with millions of dollars in funding to help mitigate the costs of the pandemic.
“Since the start of the pandemic, our government has provided the City of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph with a total of $74,292,813 to mitigate their municipal operating pressures as a result of the ongoing impacts of COVID-19,” a statement from Clark’s office read.
On April 16, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of measures intended to slow the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic including the closure of all playgrounds across the province.
The move was widely criticized immediately with the backlash being so strong, Ford walked back the measure within 24 hours.
“Ontario’s enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen,” Ford said a day later. “Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds, but gatherings outside will still be enforced.”