Community pool treading water
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The Glenwood Springs Community Center is continuing to do some bailing after a perfect storm of circumstances that forced cutbacks this year in the hours of the new municipal pool.Loss of the pool coordinator, a local labor shortage and a switchover in lifeguard accrediting procedures all have conspired to force the center to curtail how often the pool is open. The problem was at its worst this summer, and the city has been able to restore some hours of operation more recently.City Manager Jeff Hecksel said the city has heard some concerns about the situation.”I understand it completely. ‘We spent all this money on a great facility, and we can’t even use it,’ is the general comment I hear,” he said.The pool cost more than $3 million to build and opened almost two years ago.Few people may have been more excited when it opened than Howard Jay, who for many years coached the Sopris Barracudas youth swim team and remains an avid swimmer. A local school principal, Jay found that the only convenient time to get in some lap swimming was at the start of the day. For a few months, though, that became impossible, and Jay found himself unable to use his pass to what he called “a beautiful facility.”Two other competitive adult swimmers, Kae McDonald and Toni Hecksel, recently got certified as lifeguards. Toni Hecksel, Jeff’s wife, has been organizing a master’s swimming program.Said McDonald, “In a pinch if we need to be there as a volunteer lifeguard we could do that.”
“They’re able to help us with some of the adult programs, so that’s a huge help,” Jay said.McDonald said the pool’s hours were particularly bad in August, making it hard for people with full-time jobs to fit in swimming around their schedules. But she thinks things have improved since then.”They’re just facing the same crunch that the other businesses are facing,” McDonald said. “There’s just a shortage of workers and being a lifeguard takes a special set of skills, and you can’t just walk into it.”That goes to the nub of the problem. Although the city government has faced a widespread challenge filling job openings, the community center has been able to cross-train people to help fill voids elsewhere at the facility. But lifeguards require certification.As it happens, the city switched over from a more expensive private certification program to the Red Cross program this year, meaning all its lifeguards certified under the other program needed to be recertified. Also this year, Kristi Brewer, who had been the pool coordinator since its opening, moved out of state.On top of all that, the local labor shortage only got worse.Eric Brendlinger, the city’s acting parks and recreation director, said lifeguard pay ranges from $8 to $10 an hour, depending on experience. To Jeff Hecksel, the issue isn’t a financial one.”Even if we upped the salary I’m not sure we’d get people. I’m not sure they’re out there to be had,” he said.
Brendlinger said one problem for the pool is that it’s still new enough that it hasn’t been able to home-grow a core of lifeguards from those coming out of its youth programs. The city hopes to do more of that, and to keep offering lifeguard classes that might turn out future employees. But Brendlinger said the city has had a hard time filling the classes, and produced only three lifeguards out of the last two classes.Kjell Mitchell, general manager of the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool, said that facility also faces labor issues.”But we’re holding our own, and we’re grateful for the valued employees that we have here,” he said.”Wage is a part of it but we’re also hopefully creating a culture and environment that allows these people to enjoy working here.”The Hot Springs Pool has that cultural history as a local employer that the municipal pool hasn’t been around long enough to develop. Mitchell said the Hot Springs Pool always has had a connection with the local student work force, with employees starting out in other jobs at the pool and becoming lifeguards once they were old enough.”You can talk to people that are community leaders now that used to work at the pool when they were kids,” he said.Brendlinger said the city recently has been able to open the pool a consistent 52 hours a week. That’s a far cry from the 100 hours a week it used to offer, but Brendlinger thinks that might never have been a sustainable number anyway, budget-wise. He said the city’s goal is to operate the pool 65 hours a week next year. Its first priority is to resume Sunday hours.The lifeguard problems have had less impact on pool availability for youth competitive swim programs. Terri Miller, a Glenwood resident who led the fundraising drive for the pool, said she no longer has any swimmers from her family in those programs and hasn’t paid close attention to the issue of pool hours and staffing. She said the pool campaign’s focus always was on fundraising, with the understanding that the city would run the facility. But she said it’s disappointing to hear that it hasn’t been open as much as originally had been planned.
Still, she understands what the city is up against in terms of the local labor shortage.”My husband runs a business, and it’s hard to find people,” she said.Jay thinks some of the pool’s problems stem from the time it has been taking for the city to replace its pool coordinator and its parks and recreation director, a position formerly held by Leon Kuhn.”Hopefully, I really would like to see them get some leadership hired,” he said.Brendlinger said the city is being careful about whom it picks as the pool coordinator.”We realize it’s a very important position to the long-term success of aquatics and the membership base. So we have set the bar high for that position,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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