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Looking For That First Summer Job? Lifeguard Shortage Slows Pool Openings Across Austin

A lifeguard in the lifeguard chair with a big red and white umbrella watches over swimmers at Big Stacy Pool in 2019.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
After a yearlong hiring freeze and capacity limits for training classes, Austin is facing a shortage of lifeguards to staff city pools.

Soon one of the only options for relief from the scorching Central Texas summer heat will be heaving yourself into a big ol’ cannonball at your local swimming pool.

But after a yearlong hiring freeze because of the pandemic, Austin is facing a shortage of lifeguards to staff those pools. Capacity restrictions during the pandemic also reduced the size of training classes from about 50 people to no more than 10.

Jodi Jay, the aquatics division manager for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said it’s a balancing act between opening pools and training new guards. That’s made even more difficult because some of the guards who would normally train new hires are the ones currently on guard at area pools.

“I can’t take all the people that are instructors and pull them out of the pools and their lifeguarding shift to go do a lifeguard class, because that would then impact my ability to open the pools that we do have open,” she said.

The city has about a third of the number of lifeguards it employed back in 2019. Jay said it's working to bring on new hires and to recruit returning lifeguards by offering cash incentives to take on managerial positions.

The city is currently operating seven pools across town: Bartholomew, Barton Springs, Big Stacy, Deep Eddy, Govalle, Shipe and Springwoods. It plans to open the Dittmar and Balcones pools this weekend.

Another hurdle has been maintenance and repairs to aquatic facilities after February’s winter storm, further limiting the ability to host training classes for new lifeguards.

“There’s not one facility in our system, in all 45 of our locations, that did not have storm damage,” Jay said.

There are no solid plans yet about future opening dates for other pools, but Jay said she anticipates at least three more pool openings this month.

Even more pools could be open by summer’s end, but Jay said that really depends on how many lifeguards are available.

“We are going to open as many pools as possible," she said. "It might not be when we’re used to them opening, but we are going to get there."

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at jerry@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.

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