SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Labor day is the official wrap of all things summer, including the outdoor pool season at Sioux Falls Parks and Rec. This year the city’s pools are finishing an unprecedented year after a shortage of lifeguards meant two outdoor pools were unable to open all summer.
“We try to go a couple times a week usually,” Sioux Falls mom Keri Eberline said.
Families Like the Eberline’s have enjoyed a full summer of fun in the sun at Sioux Falls pools, especially after last summer’s closures.
“I’m thankful we have the lifeguards that we do so that we could be open and at least have some of them open this year,” Eberline said.
With so many families excited to get back in the water, Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation leaders say it was especially difficult to find out they would not be able to open all of their pools due to staffing.
“That was a really difficult decision for us when we had to determine which pool isn’t going to open,” Aquatics Director Jean Pearson said. “That was gut wrenching because at the end of the day, somebody is gonna have to go without a pool in their neighborhood this summer.”
In the end, the city kept McKennan and Frank Olson pools closed all summer, and were not able to open Kuehn Park’s pool until mid-June.
“We were down about 21,000 at the outdoor pools,” Pearson said.
While attendance numbers were obviously down with two pools closed, their low staff numbers were the biggest challenge of the summer.
“We were staffed just enough to open up, we didn’t have any extras,” Pearson said. “Normally I have a pool of 30 kids that are on the sub list, this year I had nine, so it makes it tough for kids to take time off or find somebody to cover their shift.”
But Pearson says the lifeguards she did have knocked it out of the park, picking up extra shifts and working through some extreme heat early this summer.
“They really stepped up to the plate when we needed them to and when the public needed them too to keep our pools open,” Pearson said.
Now the city is already working to help get more of them back next summer.
“We’re now going to be able to offer come back pay as we call, allow us to give people a pay increase so that each year they come back with us, we’ll be able to increase their pay and reward them for coming back with us year after year,” Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney said.
Kearney says the city is also stepping up recruiting at high schools and colleges over Christmas and spring break to hire more students even sooner, to hopefully solve the staffing issue for next year.
“Our goal is to have all our facilities open, that’s our goal all the time,” Kearney said.
Kearney says roughly 95 percent of the Parks and Rec summer staff are high school and college students. The Sioux Falls City Council approved a pay increase to help all of the parks positions be more competitive.