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With another lifeguard shortage, some city pools to open late

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

At a city-run job fair back in March, 15-year-old Jake Santema awaited an interview with staff as part of the process to become a summer lifeguard.

“I’m a little nervous of the feeling of having someone’s life on my hands,” said Santema. “It sounds nerve-wracking a little bit.”

It’s this level of responsibility and 40-plus hours of training, said Wayne Simmons of the Aquatic Division of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, that could deter young people from signing up — and may be one challenge in the fight to staff city pools with an adequate number of lifeguards. Nearly 300 lifeguards are ready to go, but the city needs anywhere from 500 to 550 to cover its roughly three-dozen pools.

“I talk to a lot of colleagues from other states, and a lot of agencies are having similar issues,” said Simmons, noting how a shortage of high school-aged lifeguards seems to be a national trend. “The younger staff (members) we typically target, the high school students, have so much more commitments during the summer than maybe they had previously.”

Because of the shortage, several pools will open later than expected this season. Garrison Municipal Pool will open June 3 instead of May 28, while neighborhood pools Dick Nichols, Dove Springs and Rosewood will open June 6 instead of June 3. Springwoods Municipal Pool in North Austin will remain closed until an opening date can be set.

Simmons said a recent pay increase for lifeguards will hopefully incentivize more sign-ups. City Council voted last month to increase base pay for lifeguards to $13.03 an hour, which is the city’s official “living wage.” Previously, start pay ranged from $8 to $10.25, depending on age.

For Santema, lifeguarding this summer will be a second gig. (He’ll also be working at the Paramount Theatre.) And although his father, Dan, said recently that the training was intense, his son was able to complete it. Now they’re just awaiting his pool assignment.

This story is the result of a partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT News.

Top photo: Dove Springs is one of five pools that will open late this season due to a citywide lifeguard shortage. MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR./KUT NEWS

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