Buhl Rec Center

Local athletes take turns during the annual Mercer County Senior Games cornhole competition at the Buhl Community Recreation Center. Formerly known as the Buhl Club, the facility has been a key part of the Shenango Valley since it first opened in 1903.

SHARON – The coronavirus has altered all of our lifestyles. From dining out in your favorite restaurant, to enjoying a beverage at your favorite pub while watching a game with friends, all of us miss what we once had, perhaps even took for granted.

The virus’ impact has been world-wide, and COVID-19 has crisscrossed the country. Among the many, here in Mercer County Coronavirus claimed Buhl Community Recreation Center. Owing to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proclamation, the club closed this past Monday night, hoping to re-open March 30. However, like the NFL’s in-season injury report, businesses and individuals are “day-to-day.”

“We’re saddened,” admitted BCRC Executive Director Jason Kmick. “You know, the Buhl Club is a staple of the community. It’s always there (opening in 1903). We’re a mission-driven organization, and we want to fulfill our mission and be there for the community. But we’re really just following state guidelines at this point. Gov. Wolf said, ‘non-essential,’ and we’re ‘non-essential.’”

On a recent afternoon as the sun shone through his office window, Kmick continued, “Before that came out Monday at two o’clock, we had pretty close to an all-staff meeting on Monday morning to talk about staying open, and what that was gonna take, what we all needed to do to ‘ramp’ up and do a better job of disinfecting and cleaning. We were trying to strategize: scaling back some of the operations, scaling back hours (of operation), scaling back programming; even canceling some programming like Silver Sneakers, which is for the older adults.

“That’s who we’re most concerned about,” Kmick continued. “And we have a couple other concerns. We have Maple Tree Cancer Alliance program  – we consider them high-risk – so those are some of the programs we cancelled immediately.”

So in compliance with the commonwealth, the club closed. Many members, some with new-found free time, had to formulate a game plan for filling a void in their lives, one as much social/emotional as it is physical.

Kmick estimated that, of its membership – which, he said, “fluctuates between 2,700 and 3,000 people – 750-plus are senior citizens, many members of the Silver Sneakers program. But some already hurdled this obstacle. A group of BCRC “brothers” began meeting mornings in Buhl Farm Park to enjoy some fresh air-energized exercise and entertain each other with anecdotes.

Ironically, the BCRC’s strong suit – building healthy bodies, minds and souls – is the reason why it closed because it emphasizes social interaction. 

“That’s part of the reason why we, originally, had planned to stay open – because we do provide an environment for health. But we also do have an environment for ‘social gathering,’ which can be a negative,” Kmick related.

When BCRC does re-open, members will be pleased to enjoy an environmentally healthier facility.

“We’re taking this ‘down’ time to double-clean everything and disinfect everything. I think we’ll be in a really good spot to open back up,” commented Kmick, who cautioned, “But there just might be those people who feel like, ‘I’m not going back anywhere out in public until fall.’ I think that’s something that’s very possible.

“As you can see, we have some staff in the building, what I would call our key personnel or our ‘leadership team,’” Kmick continued. “We are doing extra work in the building. Some of the silver linings is that there are projects – facility-related projects, cleaning projects – that we’ve always wanted to keep doing, painting, and that type of thing, that we have a difficult time doing when we’re in full operation. So now we’re getting to all of those things when we have some time and extra staff so we can address these areas.

Kmick’s “leadership team” includes Juanita Maykowski, Michelle Bower, Walt Hanek, Dorice Shover, Krista Redick, Chuck Dunkerley, Byron Wright and Renee Hartwell.

“It’s not gonna be anything near a major renovation like we’re planning for next year, but the hope is that you’re gonna see a little bit better shaped Buhl Club when we do open back up,” Kmick continued. “ ... Our (Evans) Wellness Center right now smells like Chlorox when you walk in there. We are head-to-toe scouring (the Wellness Center) ... painting ... taking care of some plumbing issues ... the women’s locker rooms.”

When BCRC is back in business is not known at this time. But Kmick contends it will happen. The sooner, the better for loyal members, though Kmick realizes that may not include everyone.

“I’m hoping ... I’m optimistic ... but I think the longer this does go, as long as this possible ‘shutdown’ could last, I think the more people who are current members and program participants might start to forget about us and de-prioritize this,” Kmick commented. “I’m saying to them: ‘Hang in there, please.’ One of the things EVERY expert has said is the healthier you are, the better chance you have of a fast recovery from – not just Coronavirus – but as we know, just about anything.”

Coronavirus has caused confusion and concern and in some cases fostered fear. However, Kmick contends the complete converse.

“I think, right now, we’re goin’ by two weeks (increments), and I think that’s a great idea; I don’t want to see something come out right now that says, ‘You’re done for eight (weeks)’ right away, ‘cause I think that would be a mistake. I think people’ll all just sort of ‘check out’ for eight weeks. I like to see two weeks-by-two weeks. I mean, my own personal opinion, I can see this, maybe, being four (weeks), given some of the information that I’ve been researching. But I would hope, I really hope that it doesn’t do that.

“But we’ll do what it takes to keep everybody safe,” he emphasized, later adding, 

“Part of me is a little bit worried about, that when we finally re-open it’s gonna be at a time (early April?) where we’re typically not seeing as much participation ... you’re now gonna have people who are – even after we’re passed the ‘concerned’ portion of this virus – who’re just nervous, who emotionally just can’t pull themselves back (to the BCRC) right away. Even though it’s safe, they might still stay away from public places for a little while.

“Take 911, for example,” Kmick continued. “ ... I mean, people stayed off airplanes for six months to a year, when airport security was probably the best it could be. There probably were no ‘technical’ reasons to stay away from that situation, but there was a mental ... people just didn’t ‘feel good.’

“ ... The real national emergency,” Kmick later noted, “is gonna be the aftermath and the fall-out. ... A month, a month-and-a-half, I think that’s probably where we’re at ‘til we get this right.”

Kmick concluded, “Our operations will be back to normal, no question. I am optimistic; I’ll always be optimistic. I’m definitely a glass half-full kind’ve person. ... But certainly,  my hope will be – and this is sort of an industry-wide comment – that everybody will get a little bit healthier after this is over, because (good health) is your first line of defense. Your own personal health and your immune system. And it’s well documented how good exercise and eating right and taking vitamins, that’s what prevents you from getting (sick) – or the next one, ‘cause there probably will be a next one (virus) at some point. 

“So instead of shying away from the Buhl Club or places that are big social (gatherings), once the ‘green light’ is given, I say, ‘Get into it more; get in here and get your health up so that you’re personally prepared for the next time something like this happens.’ 

“Everybody: Hang in there ... deep breath ... it’s gonna be okay!” Kmick concluded.