Dalplex sees attendance drop, but not from lack of interest

Pandemic imposes restrictions on facility use

Due to COVID-19, a large drop-off in the number of people using Dalplex was expected during Dalhousie University’s 2020 fall semester. However, Dal Athletics Facilities Director Kathie Wheadon said the gym had a strong semester despite fewer people coming through the door. 

Wheadon said Dalplex’s usage has dropped about 77 per cent from 48,300 users in September 2019 to 10,973 in September 2020. Although fewer students returned to Halifax last semester for virtual classes, gym demand remained relatively high. Appointments, now required for Dalplex users, filled quickly during peak times of the day and overall were filled more than 90 per cent of the time during September 2020. 

“Before, we could have 200 people upstairs in the fitness hall. Right now, there’s only 30 allowed,” said Wheadon, adding that currently a fully booked week at Dalplex accommodates 2,774 users. Appointments for most Dalplex activities are an hour long with cleaning done between appointments. 

Wheadon said last semester was characterized by “learning a new system very quickly.” A major part of this new system was establishing the online appointment booking requirement, checking in Dalplex users who booked appointments at the door, screening for COVID-19 and enforcing public health protocols. 

Dalplex aimed to improve its service during the semester by surveying what equipment was popular with users to best suit their needs. 

“We’re happy with the setup we have here while trying to increase some opportunities upstairs. Dumbbell workouts seem to be popular so we’ve added more,” Wheadon said. “We’re trying to listen where we can while considering all kinds of things with every decision.” 

Varsity teams’ use of Dalplex 

Despite a drop in usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still interest from students and the wider community to use Dalplex. (Photo by Geoffrey Howard)

Brett Armstrong is the strength and conditioning coach of a few Dal Tigers teams. Although there aren’t any games this year, Armstrong’s been just as busy, if not busier, working with athletes at Dalplex. 

“Teams are around the weight room more this year than the field or court. More time spent in there would be in place of watching games or taking part in competitions,” Armstrong said. 

“He has put in a ton of hours helping the teams train. I think Brett is ready to move his apartment to Dalplex,” said Wheadon. As entire teams cannot train together due to COVID-19 protocols, Armstrong holds many sessions with small gathering numbers to accommodate as many athletes as possible. 

Another difference for varsity athletes is not using multiple facilities at once. For instance, in a training session teams might be in the weight room and then head to the track for other workouts whenever they please. But now, for contact tracing purposes and gathering restrictions, the weight room, track and pool have limited appointment time-slots.  

“It’s less busy and crowded, which isn’t as great because you want to have a lot of people there. It brings positive energy,” Armstrong said.  

Returning from the winter break, Armstrong is tasked with getting student-athletes training again after weeks of less activity. With many coming out of self-isolation after travelling, Armstrong is diligent when getting players back in action. 

“With students coming back [in the fall] after being in five months of lockdown from all over Canada, that was the toughest part this year: getting them going again. The winter break is busy for that too. Student-athletes want to jump right back in and there are always some injuries, but it’s similar to other years,” Armstrong said. 

Where Dalplex stands now 

Only gym members, including full-time Dal students, varsity athletes and resident clubs like the Halifax Trojans Swim Club, are permitted to use Dalplex right now. Single and multi-day passes aren’t being sold at this point. 

Even with fewer people in the gym, Dalplex had a lot to consider for their operations this unique school year. They had to account for various teams’ schedules plus provincial and team-specific COVID-19 protocols. Wheadon said they’ve created student jobs to fill needs like checking users into Dalplex, cleaning equipment and monitoring protocols. 

“There are challenges along the way too with people’s frustrations with COVID, but right now this is how we have to work in order to serve as many people as we can,” Wheadon said. “Safety is first and foremost and we’ll expand our offerings only when it makes sense to do so.” 

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Luke Dyment

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