Lifeguard shortage could cause some metro cities to limit pool time

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FAIRWAY, Kan. — You might have to carefully plan your trips to the pool this summer. The lack of lifeguards is forcing some cities to limit the time pools will be open.

It used to be a very competitive, tough job to get, but now lifeguards are in short supply. City pools being closed in 2020 because of COVID-19 is the main reason for the struggle.

“Our facility and our staff typically has an 80% retention rate, which is a great number to go from season to season,” said Shawnee Recreation Aquatics Specialist Sean Keenan. “Last year we didn’t open, so we didn’t get to retain any of those employees.”

Keenan needs a minimum of 80 lifeguards to staff the City’s main pool and waterpark Splash Cove but has only 60. While he’s still interviewing and hiring, Splash Cove will operate on a limited schedule.

Other cities are having similar issues.

“I think it’s really sad. I mean I would love for it to open up. I really enjoy going to the pool here,” said Roeland Park resident Emily Kyle.

A former lifeguard, Kyle is spending her summer break at home in Roeland Park.

“I thought it was a really great job,” she said.

When Kyle worked at the Roeland Park pool, she made $8.25 an hour. To attract summer workers, the city is now paying $12.00 an hour at its newly renovated pool.

“Everything you see behind me is new. This new slide tower, this family slide, this whole activity pool here,” Roeland Park Parks and Rec Superintendent Tony Nichols said.

Nichols needs at least 30 lifeguards to fully operate the pool and now has 16. Applications have been rolling in since they increased the pay and offered a cash incentive for referrals, but the city will most likely have to open on a modified schedule.

“Maybe it’s a section of the pool, maybe certain days of the week, depending on our staffing levels,” he said. “If we get to that 30 or more lifeguards, I should be able to open this thing.”

All of the lifeguard jobs require training and certification. Cities will provide the classes, but in most cases the applicant must pay for them.

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