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Longer pool season? Not likely

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners want the pool season to go through Labor Day, but the director of parks and recreation reiterated Tuesday that is not possible.

Curt Loupe, parks and rec director, said it didn’t matter how much money the department had to hire lifeguards, there were not enough of them available to keep the pools open through Labor Day. He said that was partly because of the school start date, but also because of the start of school activities, such as football practice. Loupe said the department struggled to keep the pools open the last two weeks of the season because of a shortage of lifeguards.

“This is a nationwide problem,” Loupe said. “There were state park beaches that didn’t have lifeguards, and there were drownings as a result. It’s not just something we are facing.”

Commissioner Wynn Butler said while he understood the problems with keeping lifeguards, he would like Loupe to keep at least one pool open through Labor Day next year. Department officials indicated Wednesday that due to the size and number of water features and what are referred to as “blind spots” within the pool layouts, it requires about 30 people — most of them lifeguards — to operate City Pool.

They said even CiCo Pool requires a minimum of 11 staff members for safe operation.

Loupe also suggested the pool hours for open swim times be shifted in order to provide swimming lessons in the evenings and open up more times to hold private parties. Loupe said his office conducted a study of when people were attending the open swim hours of the pools. After evaluating those numbers, Loupe suggested the commission allow the hours of operation to be shortened. He said this would allow more people to hold private parties after hours, and maximize the use of the pools during the season.

Loupe said all the times available for private parties were filled last season, clearly demonstrating the public desire to have more slots available. He said working parents also contacted him asking that swim lessons be available in the evenings.

Kelly Cook, aquatics supervisor, said for security and liability reasons the city needs to have its own lifeguards at such activities, even when individuals or groups bring their own lifeguards. He also suggested those costs be passed along to the renters. Commissioners supported Cook’s suggestion.

As for overall costs, Loupe said the summer was a great year for the pools. He said pool passes are catching on, and there was a 14.8 percent increase in the demand from last year.

Pool parties were up 142.3 percent, and swimming lessons increased 30.9 percent. Despite these increases in demand, total expenses for the pools decreased by 17.4 percent because of staffing changes and more efficient use of chemicals, Loupe said.

Loupe suggested to commissioners that the pool fees remain the same, with the exception of private parties and events.

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