City of Lawrence plans to open outdoor pool this summer, but lifeguard shortage is causing delays

photo by: Nick Krug

The Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center, pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016.

After not being able to open the public pool last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department is planning a comeback this summer.

A full comeback, though, will require a lot more lifeguards. The city needs to hire about 100 more lifeguards to open all areas of both the indoor and outdoor pools safely. Roger Steinbrock, who oversees the Parks and Rec marketing division, said the department was working to get enough staff to open all areas of the Outdoor Aquatic Center, 727 Kentucky St.

“I just want the community to know that we want the pool open too,” Steinbrock said. “We want to provide fun for the community; that’s what summer is all about and what Parks and Recreation is all about.”

But right now, the city has only four applications, according to aquatics supervisor Lori Madaus. If the city is not able to hire all the lifeguards it needs, Madaus said there could be times when the city is not able to open the diving or slide areas of the pool.

“Safety is our top priority, both the safety of our guests and the staff,” Madaus said.

The city has had difficulty filling lifeguard positions in the past, but Madaus said the pandemic exacerbated the challenge this year because some lifeguards found other jobs when the pool was closed last summer. At this point, the shortage of lifeguards is likely not going to allow the outdoor pool to open at its traditional time on Memorial Day weekend.

Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers said that currently the city hopes to have enough lifeguards hired and trained in order to open the outdoor pool on June 12. However, Rogers said if applications really picked up it could be sooner. Under the worst-case scenario, should the city not get enough applicants, he said the city would opt to have only the outdoor pool open and close the Indoor Aquatic Center, 4706 Overland Drive. Rogers said the city was continuing to improve the hiring process, including the availability of a mobile app to apply, and he didn’t expect that scenario to occur.

“We think we’ll get enough staff that we’ll have something for everyone, but that everyone may not have everything,” Rogers said.

In previous years, Parks and Recreation has employed 170 to 180 lifeguards for the summer season, according to a city news release. Currently, the indoor pool has been operating at a lower capacity because of the pandemic. Of the 100 people needed to open both pools safely, 30 people are needed to open the currently closed slide and wading area at the indoor pool and 70 are needed to operate the outdoor pool.

The lifeguard positions are open to people 16 and older and in the past have been filled mostly with people of high school and college age, but Madaus encouraged people of all ages to apply. She said no prior experience is necessary, as training is provided.

As the department brings back other summer activities, such as swimming lessons and sports leagues, it is also in need of swim instructors, officials and other seasonal positions. Assistant director of recreation Lee Ice said the department was in particular need of umpires if games were to operate as usual.

Those who are interested in applying to be a lifeguard, swim instructor or any Parks and Rec open part-time position can apply on the city’s website at lawrenceks.org/jobs. Those with a lapsed certificate can contact the aquatics division to find out about upcoming trainings.

Lifeguards make $10 per hour and above, and head lifeguards make $11 per hour and above, according to the city’s job postings.

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