Lifeguards lose summer jobs as public pools close to more than 200,000 visits

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Tens of thousands of kids and adults won’t be able to swim in Sioux Falls municipal pools this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

City officials announced Monday morning that complying with Center for Disease Control guidelines on safe pool operations would very difficult and require more staff. The best course was to close the pools. Officials did share about some alternative programming in a partnership between the city, the Siouxland Public Library System, the Washington Pavilion and Great Plains Zoo.

The six outdoor pools recorded nearly 200,000 visits in 2018, according to a 2018 Parks and Recreation Annual Report. Attendance figures are not compiled for Pioneer Spray Park.

Parks and recreation director Don Kearney said the city’s indoor and outdoor pools had 386,759 visitors in 2019. About 205,000 of those were at the indoor Midco Aquatic Center. The outdoor pools had about 181,000 visitors.

The Midco Aquatic Center will still be closed. The pool drew 209,218 visitors in 2018.

Jean Pearson, the recreation director for the city, said officials are still discussing whether or not the Midco Aquatic Center could safely opening in the future.

Meanwhile, lifeguards, pool managers and concessions workers will be out of jobs for the summer.

Pearson said she hires 82 full-time equivalent lifeguards for the five outdoor pools and one wading pool. The positions are 40 hours a week but could be filled by two part-time hires, she said. It’s not unusual to have 30 to 40 part-time employees as lifeguards, she said. She also hires eight concessions workers and eight pool managers.

Midco has about 75 lifeguards who work varying hours, she said.

Pearson said she had been sending weekly emails recently to those expecting to work this summer to “keep them in the loop.”

Sending the email today telling them the pools would be closed was tough, Pearson said.

“It’s hard knowing kids love what they do, they love being around kids,” Pearson said.

Kearney said if pools were to be opened guidelines from the CDC would need to be followed including guidelines on cleaning handrails and restrooms. Also, how would pool staff make sure three and four years old maintained social distancing, Kearney said.

“We would have really had to reduce our occupancy,” Kearney said of trying keep the pools safe in the pandemic.

The closure of pools also means no swimming lessons. In 2018, 1,444 individuals took outdoor swimming lessons in 170 classes. Those classes generated $26,965 in revenue.

“What can we do to catch up on the lost opportunity this summer,” Pearson said of swimming lessons.

It’s important for people to learn how to swim so Pearson said the department will be discussing ways to add more lessons to the schedule should Midco Aquatic Center open.

Admission to Sioux Falls pools was $5 a day for those 2 to 17 and $5 for those 55 and over. The daily charge was $6 for those 18 to 54.

The city sold 7,899 summer swim passes in 2018. Summer passes ranged from a high of $100 for a family to $30 for child from 2 to 17.

The summer closure of pools means the city will not have the expense of operating the facilities. The 2020 Parks and Recreation budget included about $3.7 million in annual expenses for pools. That would include MIDCO which operates year-round. The total parks and recreation department budget is about $20.1 million.

Kearney said expenses are usually $800,000 to $900,000 higher than revenues each year generated from all the pools.

Sioux Falls officials said pools in several nearby communities would also be closed this summer.

Here’s a link to learn more about CDC guidelines for public pools.

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