Exploration Place closes; art gallery, YMCA remain open

The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre announced it will be closed for at least the next two weeks, a move which will leave some parents scrambling to find childcare for the school spring break that starts next week.

The closure, which comes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, also affects the museum's March Break Camps that provide daytime care for students during the two-week spring break.

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"We have 40 spots in our spring break camp, and it is fully-subscribed," The Exploration Place CEO Tracey Calogheros said. "(But) in Prince George during spring break, we see thousands of people a day. We become a high-risk space. It would be irresponsible to be open."

Parents will receive emails explaining more details about how to access full refunds for the camp programs, as well as for birthday parties booked during the closure.

 Calogheros said the decision to close was a difficult one, and was based on the latest information being released by public health authorities, and best practices for community science centres.

"I had a conference call with my colleagues with science centres across the U.S... (some) right in the heart of things. The advice I got was 'shutdown early, rather than late,'" Calogheros said. "As a parent myself, I'd rather be inconvenienced for a couple weeks than have my child get sick."

The museum's staff will receive their regular pay during the two-week closure.

 “Although there is no known case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in our region, our board supports the management’s difficult decision to close The Exploration Place to help the community with the ‘social distancing’ that is necessary to slow the spread of the virus at this critical stage, “ The Exploration Place board co-chairperson Shauna Harper said in a press release. “This decision was not made lightly. We believe that this will help to safeguard the health and safety of our community, knowing that we are all in this together.”

YMCA of Northern BC CEO Amanda Alexander said the non-profit agency's childcare programs will remain open, unless there is new direction from public health authorities or other concerns arise.

"We place childcare as our top priority to remain open," Alexander said. "It's a domino effect. We recognize that if we close, people's ability to work is impacted."

The YMCA has increase sanitation at all its facilities, is following the best practices suggested by public health officials and has a put a pandemic response plan in place, if cases should start being reported in northern B.C., Alexander said.

"We've committed that no one will come to work sick. If we have to close a program because of that, we will," she said.

The YMCA currently has more than 600 children attending regular childcare programs, and provides services to additional children through its spring break programs, gym child-minding program, recreation facilities and other programs, she said. Of the YMCA's 5,000 local members, approximately 2,000 are children.

The gym facility in Prince George will remain open as well, she said.

Two Rivers Gallery director of public programs Twyla Exner said the gallery will remain open and its spring break art camps will continue as scheduled, unless B.C. health officials change their recommendations.

"At this point we are following the recommendation of the B.C. Health Authority, which is gatherings of under 250 people are still okay," Exner said. "We are business as usual until further notice."

The gallery currently has 20 spaces in its spring break arts programs, and they're all full. However, she said, parents can call and put their name on a waitlist is a space become available.

"(And) what we have offered people, is if they are concerned about it, they can cancel without paying the usual cancellation fee," Exner added.

Children's facilities weren't the only ones impacted by closures. On Friday, the North Central Seniors Association announced all activities are cancelled until further notice, and Westwood Church suspended planned Sunday services for March 15 and March 22, with more potential cancellations possible.

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