Council seeks solutions to swimming pool issues

Friday, September 13, 2019

After a summer plagued with a shortage of lifeguards that sometimes forced the city swimming pool to close, the Alta City Council is diving into the issues head-first.

After discussing the problems in recent months, the council hosted a community meeting Tuesday night, which resulted in a spirited discussion, support for the pool, and some ideas on how to fill the staff.

“It’s going to take a community-wide effort,” one audience member suggested. Mayor Al Clark noted that problems would not be solved in one night, but efforts will continue.

Alta is not alone in the troubles. Pools in many area communities have struggled to find the staff they need and obtain the necessary certifications for lifeguards.

Last summer, the Alta pool that normally employs 10 lifeguards had to start the season with seven, and soon was down to six as one employee had to be let go. Generally one lifeguard can supervise no more than 30 children, and the daily attendance average for the Alta pool is running over 50.

A manager is hired on a single-season basis, and in recent years there have been very few applicants to choose from, and none with lifeguarding certification. The staff that the city has been able to hire who have the necessary credentials to give swim lessons have not been interested in doing them, forcing families to go elsewhere for lessons. Hours in 2019 were reduced to 2-7 p.m. due to the lack of staff.

The result has been a lot of complaints, but none of the people complaining seem interested in volunteering or helping to find a solution, city officials lament.

It was noted that fewer young people seem interested in working as lifeguards, a position that once was considered the choice summer job for high school and college students.

There was some concern about a lack of flexible hours in the past, or some lifeguards not feeling comfortable with past management, which may have given the job less than an ideal reputation.

Many of those attending felt that an adult manager should be on site during all pool hours. A co-manager situation was discussed, with both possibly required to have lifeguard certification to cover situations when younger employees may not to able to work.

Alta lifeguards have been paid $8 an hour. The council discussed the possibility of raising pay, but noted that the pool already operates at a city budget deficit of nearly $40,000, an expected situation for a community pool.

The pool charges $90 for a family season membership or $50 for a single. One member of the audience felt the amount was too high, and said her family goes to facilities in Aurelia or Storm Lake instead. She noted that children under school age are free in Aurelia, but not in Alta.

One person said their children had gone to the pool during the summer, paying the $9 daily admission, only to have it shut down less than 15 minutes later for lack of staff, with no money refunded.

Some also felt that a requirement that children under 12 cannot come to the pool alone should be adjusted, as some families would like children to be able to ride bikes to the pool. On the other hand, there was concern that without parental supervision, some families might use the pool as a “babysitter.”

Mayor Clark noted that as a child, he always went to his local pool alone, but noted that times are different today.

There was some discussion of an evening break when some pools close for an hour to allow lifeguards and guests to get out of the heat and eat, followed by perhaps 7-9 p.m. open hours.

The mayor asked the co-manager of the Aurelia pool if she would consider managing both pools, and she said she would consider it. One person in the audience also said she would possibly consider managing, and said she has heard a couple of others in the community say they would step forward if it is necessary to keep the pool open.

There was some concern about the behavior of the young employees, with one of the city officials saying they have heard them say they couldn’t be fired because the pool would have to close without them.

Having a discipline system was discussed, and one suggestion was a high school “silver cord” type volunteerism incentive program that could encourage more young people to work.

The mayor noted that the expense of operating the pool is “an investment” in the quality of life in the city. “We just have to figure out how we can keep doing it,” he said.

Children have asked for a slide, and the pool has been without an insulating cover for a number of years. The park board will look into the possibilities. City officials will continue to look into options to improve hiring, in hopes of avoiding problems for next year’s season.