A national lifeguard shortage is being felt in cities all across Kansas. With swimming pools and aquatic centers in Topeka opening May 29 – Memorial Day weekend – Shawnee County Parks + Recreation is short of its desired number of lifeguards needed to safely operate all of its aquatic facilities, and is working to recruit more.
What used to be an attractive summer gig for students is being replaced with summer internships, summer school and other endeavors.
“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 with more indicating interest but who have not yet completed the application process.
“There is no compromising on the safety of our patrons,” said Allacher. If we don’t have enough staff on a given day, we may not open a facility.”
Lawrence pools face limited hours
The Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department is planning a comeback this summer after being closed all last year.
However, they still need a lot more lifeguards. The city needs to hire about 100 more lifeguards to open all areas of both the indoor and outdoor pools safely. Roger Steinbrock, who oversees the Parks and Rec marketing division, said the department was working to get enough staff to open all areas of the Outdoor Aquatic Center, 727 Kentucky St.
“I just want the community to know that we want the pool open too,” Steinbrock said. “We want to provide fun for the community; that’s what summer is all about and what Parks and Recreation is all about.”
Kansas City area has a lifeguard shortage, too
You might also have to carefully plan your trips to the pool in Fairway, Shawnee or Roeland Park this summer, among other places. The lack of lifeguards is forcing some cities to limit the time pools will be open.
“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 only has 60 of the 80 lifeguards needed to staff the City’s main pool and Splash Cove waterpark. In the meantime, Splash Cove will operate on a limited schedule.
Other cities are having similar issues.
A lifeguard shortage has also forced city leaders to scale back hours at the Roeland Park Aquatic Center.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple weeks. The council’s decision to raise the pay rate and offer those incentives I think has gotten a lot of people to apply,” Parks and Recreation Superintendent Tony Nichols said. “We’re up to 22 lifeguards. With that amount of staffing we’re going to open on an abbreviated schedule.”
This summer the pool will be open four days a week on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 7 p.m.
The 2021 season will be the first year guests can enjoy new equipment at the Aquatic Center. City crews recently completed a $1.6 million Capital Improvement Project at the center. The renovation includes new slides, a children’s splash pad area and new shade coverings throughout the facility.
The Aquatic Center will open for the 2021 season on May 31.
–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice