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City seeks solutions to Barton Springs lifeguard problem

Tuesday, March 15, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Spurred by news that Barton Springs Pool will soon be closed two days a week, City Council Member Paige Ellis will be asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to come up with additional strategies to address the city’s lifeguard shortage. In a post to the City Council Message Board, the Council member – and former lifeguard – confirmed that she is preparing a resolution for the March 24 Council meeting.

Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley announced last week that, starting March 21, Barton Springs Pool would be closed Mondays and Wednesdays, “until the staffing levels improve.”

On Monday, the Parks and Recreation Department said it would be offering a $500 summer completion bonus for all temporary lifeguards and temporary summer camp counselors who are fully trained and able to work June 1-Aug. 15. Those receiving the bonuses will be expected to work at least three shifts per week, unless other arrangements are made.

The parks department’s Aquatic Division operates 45 public facilities, including regional pools, community pools, neighborhood pools, and a splash pad. Barton Springs Pool, of course, is Austin’s best-known swimming pool.

In response to Covid-19, the Aquatic Division halted all training and hiring of lifeguards during spring break of 2020. The division resumed training last spring, but the staffing deficit “has been difficult to overcome,” McNeeley said.

Barton Springs is already closed most of the day every Thursday for cleaning. People who wish to swim “at their own risk” in the early morning or later in the evening may still do so.

McNeeley noted that Barton Springs Pool requires an Open Water Guard certification and training in addition to the usual lifeguard certification. The city currently has about 100 lifeguards on its payroll, but only 23 are certified to guard at Barton Springs Pool.

In order to recruit more lifeguards, Ellis’ message board post suggests that the city manager consider:

  • waiving the training fees required to become a lifeguard
  • providing incentives or bonuses for full-time/longer-term commitments
  • increasing hourly pay for all or specific employee classifications
  • partnering with the Austin Parks Foundation and other stakeholders on creative solutions to fund these ideas

The parks department is recruiting through job fairs, social media campaigns, paid advertising and direct mailers, according to McNeeley. In her memo, she noted that since the department has a higher than usual vacancy rate, there is enough money available for a one-time incentive during this fiscal year.

Ellis has fond memories of her time as a lifeguard. “Working my way through the ranks of lifeguarding from trainee to instructor taught me valuable lessons and was a fun job to have in my high school and college years,” she wrote. “And it’s even a great job for adults! We need to get creative so that we can enjoy all of our pools in all parts of town as the summer heats up.”

Ellis noted that Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo would be co-sponsors on the resolution, and she invited others to join them.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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