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Are Austin pools ready for the summer?

An inflatable pool float shaped like a sloth floats in the sun in a swimming pool
Gabriel C. Pérez
The city struggled opening pools last season because of a lifeguard shortage.

We know it’s coming: the sweltering blanket of heat that smothers the city for what feels like months on end. And when it arrives, there’s no finer respite than a cold, wet swimming pool.

But last year, the options to cool off in an Austin public pool were limited — with some pools opening late or not at all. This year, the city says, that won’t happen. Hopefully.

“We're pretty optimistic that we'll be able to get everything open on June 5,” Aaron Levine, the aquatic program manager for Austin Parks and Recreation, said. “There's a lot of factors between now and then. But, we're pretty optimistic.”

The aquatics division operates 45 facilities throughout the city, including year-round swimming holes like Barton Springs, 26 public swimming pools and neighborhood splash pads. The plan, Levine says, is to have most of them operating on time.

Last year, the city’s scheduled pool openings were thwarted by a lifeguard shortage. A glitch in the hiring system discovered by an internal audit left the city shorthanded.

To tackle the staffing issues this year, the Aquatics Division bumped up hiring incentives, offering $20 an hour, free training and cash bonuses.

So far, Levine says, the efforts are going well. The city has hired about half of the 850 lifeguards it needs.

“May is really busy and it keeps growing," Levine said. "We’ve got at least 230 people that are registered for classes, and it keeps climbing up, which is great.”

The city also faces facilities issues. A lot can happen as pools rest during the off-season.

“They're really finicky. You never really know what's leaking or what's going to happen until you turn on the water to the pool,” Levine said.

Before the pandemic, Austin swimming pools saw 1.5 million visitors. Last year, Austin’s second-hottest summer on record, about a million people visited — even with many pools closed. Levine says the city expects at least that many this year and probably more.

Because for a lot of people, like recent Tennessee transplant Allie Bell, Austin pools aren’t just fun, they’re the only way to survive the summer.

"The second that we moved here I was, like, well, I hate it," Bell said. "It's way too hot. And [swimming] is the one thing that can actually make a summer day outside feel palatable to me."

If all goes as planned, Austinites like Bell should soon have dozens more options to cool off.

And, yes, it’s a lot of work to get the city's pools ready, but for Levine, the hustle is not that bad.

“The city of Austin loves their pools and it's what makes my job awesome because I'm the pool guy,” he said.

If you plan to hit the public pools this summer, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Most community and neighborhood pools are free and scheduled to open on June 5. They will remain open through at least mid-August, but hours could be extended.
  • City of Austin swimming classes — for all stages and ages — are $57, or free if you qualify for a scholarship.
  • The city operates five year-round pools to keep you cool.

So, get out there and enjoy the water while you can.

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