HARTFORD — The Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center is preparing for the summer season, with the city looking to increase capacity and return practices to something close to normal, after so many things last summer were often marked and altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aquatic center pool in Hartford was open last year through the first summer of COVID-19, but with some changes and restrictions. City Administrator Steve Volkert said at that time the pool operated at a limited capacity.

“We were holding it at 50 percent, and we’re looking to get back to 100 percent,” Volkert said.

Volkert said last summer there were only a few days when the pool approached the 50-percent limit, so those people who wanted to use the pool were not prevented from doing so, but as time moves on, more people get vaccinated and more people return to normal habits, Hartford is expecting greater demand for pool use this year.

A change that will remain from last year is bring your own chair. The city implemented that at the VMAC to prevent contact contamination; guidelines would have required the aquatic center’s chairs be cleaned between each use by every new person. Volkert said the time it would have taken from lifeguards doing their primary duties would have been inefficient and costly for pool operations.

With people bringing their own chairs, everyone using the pool can be comfortable without the additional cleaning issues.

As capacity increases, Volkert said Parks and Recreation is also returning swimming lessons to the normal procedure, with instructors in the pool with students rather than distanced outside the pool. Instructors will wear face shields, however, as a continued precaution to prevent potential exposure to viruses, in line with health department recommendations.

Volkert noted that if the COVID-19 situation improves over time – if numbers and transmission rates in the area go down – some rules could be adjusted and loosened as appropriate, such as removing face guards or putting out some public chairs.