Wilmot Township’s New Parks and Facilities Director Sandy Jackson Makes the Most of Pandemic Shutdown

No sooner had Sandy Jackson got her feet under the desk as Wilmot’s new director of parks, facilities and recreation services, COVID-19 threw all of her plans into disarray.

“I think I was in my office for a week and a half, and then we were all working from home. It’s been quite the entry into this job and this community, but in many ways, it’s actually afforded an opportunity to get to know people a little bit better.”

Jackson has been in the Parks and Recreation field for many years, including a number of roles at the City of Brantford. After working her way through the ranks, the self-described “farm girl” who grew up in Beechwood said she wanted to get back to a smaller, rural community. Her son used to play hockey in Wilmot, so she knows the area well.

Her department has been making the best of the current situation by starting some facilities’ projects earlier than planned while they aren’t being used by residents.

“There’s been a lot of getting to know the community and how the operations work in my department because of COVID. I’m trying to keep the glass half full a little bit,” said Jackson, adding that senior management, council and local community groups are working very closely together during the pandemic.

“It certainly was very difficult to close the facilities and put all of the part-time staff on designated emergency leave. I hadn’t met most of them, so having to bring that news to them was definitely difficult. Working very closely with my full-time team has been a good opportunity to see what a really good team I’ve got, and how dedicated they are.”

Jackson meets a couple of times a week with recreation directors from other area municipalities, to make sure protocols are uniform wherever possible.

New public health and safety procedures that have been out in place for the recent reopening of Wilmot’s splash pad, Jackson said.

“We haven’t staffed our splash pad in the past. In order to help people manage the new process, and try to educate people and keep them physically distanced, we thought it was safest to staff it.”

Jackson also reviewed how her team works together.

“It’s been very challenging. Physical distancing and protocols for using vehicles, working independently, we’ve had to do a lot of training,” she said. “Our human resources department has been doing a great job in developing these protocols.”

There’s still work to be done before other recreation facilities can reopen, as they each have unique aspects, such as the flow of people as they move through them. Jackson points out that recreation centres can’t simply copy supermarkets, which have arrows to direct the public.

“It’s a lot more difficult to do in a recreation space, and in a space where people are participating in activities, like swimming,” she said. “It’s required a lot of creative thought.”

Jackson uses Twitter to keep track of township activities that require her attention, such as recent vandalism and racist graffiti in Baden’s Sir Adam Beck Park. She was able to respond quickly and send out staff to remove the offensive words and images.

She also uses social media to share details of her department’s ongoing projects, such as renovations in the St. Agatha Community Centre, re-grouting the Recreation Complex’s swimming pool, and clearing brush in Schmidt Woods. Work on the Haysville Community Centre playground is almost complete, and there are ongoing minor repairs in some municipal facilities.

“Anything that we’ve been able to do while we’re closed to improve things for the residents when they come back, we’ve been working on that.”