A national lifeguard shortage is being felt locally in Topeka. With most swimming pools and aquatic centers in Topeka having opened on May 29, Shawnee County Parks + Recreation is still short of its desired number of lifeguards needed to safely operate all of its aquatic facilities and pools.
Although they continue working to recruit more, Hillcrest pool, 1800 S.E. 21st St., has still not opened due to the shortage.
Although being a lifeguard used to be an attractive summer gig for students, this summer is not like any other in recent memory.
“This is a pattern we’re seeing all over the country,” said Dave Allacher, Shawnee County aquatics supervisor.
Ideally, Allacher would like to have 220 lifeguards to cover all aquatic facilities while taking into account summer vacations, lifeguards who have to work around second jobs or sports activities, and staff who leave early for college. As of May 18, the department had 137 lifeguards, and that hasn’t changed much in recent days.
The Hillcrest pool in Topeka has received the least amount of lifeguard applications for the summer, meaning it will stay closed at least through Memorial Day Weekend.
“If we don’t have enough guards to staff a pool, we can’t open it because we want to keep people safe,” Mike Mclaughlin with Shawnee County Parks and Rec said.
All other Parks and Rec aquatic centers and pools remain open to the public, including the newly renovated Adventure Cove at Lake Shawnee. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the Grand Reopening of the Adventure Cove was held May 26. The reopening unveiled the new floating playground, the resumption of swimming at the Adventure Cove due to new water filtering equipment, and multiple other improvements to the cove area.
Mclaughlin said more teens are opting for internships or just haven’t made plans for the summer yet.
He’s hoping the shortage is just temporary.
“Several of the school districts ran a little bit later this school year than they normally do, so a lot of the kids will still wait until school’s out to start looking for a summer job,” Mclaughlin said. “And that’s why we hope to pick up a number of more applicants there and make it through the summer ok.”
Shawnee County lifeguards make $8-$9/ hour.
Another factor in this post-pandemic economy is that almost every business is struggling to find people willing to work, and some are offering higher wages and/or bonuses.
–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice
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