MERIDEN — The Meriden Summer Playground Program, a free, seven-week youth summer program with about 300 participants annually, has been canceled this year due to state pandemic restrictions on summer camps.
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon said two restrictions in particular — a limit of 50 kids per site and restrictions on transporting attendees on buses — led him to decide it didn’t make sense to hold the program, which would have started next week.
The city-funded program promotes “positive youth development and healthy lifestyle choice through fun activities for children ages 6 to 12,” the city said in a statement announcing the cancellation. The decision was made in consultation with municipal leaders, City Manager Tim Coon said at a meeting this week.
“The City shares this news with deepest regrets and heavy hearts, as we too look forward to our summer program,” the city’s statement read.
Bourdon called the program the city’s “hallmark” youth program and said its main draw to families was that it was “drop-in” by nature. Parents could drop off children whatever days or weeks they wanted after registering.
The 50-participant restriction would have potentially required the city to turn some families away. Bourdon said the camp in past years has had 275 to 300 kids, ages 6 to 12. The camp is spread across four sites, with the largest sites hosting between 70 to 100 campers a day.
State restrictions also stipulate that 50 kids at one site must be split up into groups of 10 that can’t commingle.
The program also relied heavily on “field trips” to other parks facilities across the city, Bourdon said. Campers were transported in city vans, and state restrictions would have limited transportation.
The new camp set up, Bourdon said, would have required staff to “walk on eggshells the whole summer” and wouldn’t have provided kids with a true camp experience.
“It would be more like school outside, it just wouldn’t be that much fun,” Bourdon said.
Other local nonprofits, including the YMCA and Girls Inc., have better infrastructure and facilities like rope courses and pools, he noted.
“We’ve been trying our best to match what the nonprofits are offering, and I just think that if we did it and did it wrong and somehow some of our campers tested positive, I just think it could do irreparable long-term damage. I just thought it was the better move for the program and for the participants to take the year off and get back to normal next year,” Bourdon said.
He estimated the city spends a total of $85,000 to $100,000 for the summer camp annually. It hasn’t yet been decided what will happen to the money allocated for this year’s program.