CHICAGO — City pools will not open until at least early July, as Chicago Park District struggles to recruit enough lifeguards.
Park District officials said Friday there are enough lifeguards in place monitoring Chicago’s beaches, but not to oversee the district’s 77 indoor and outdoor pools, which are a primary form of summer recreation for many neighbors. The district planned to open pools June 24 but have postponed until July 5, according to a statement.
The district recently boosted its cash bonus and other incentives to try to attract more lifeguards, but a Sun-Times report this week showed 91 percent of those seasonal lifeguard positions were still unfilled and 73 percent of “all lifeguard positions district-wide” are vacant.
“Opening pools on July 5th will allow the District additional time to recruit and implement a strategy that provides pool resources to as many communities as possible this summer,” park district spokesperson Michele Lemons said in a statement. “We continue to attract applicants daily and need time to complete the required testing and certification and onboard new hires. Over the next week, we will continue to evaluate staffing numbers to determine a plan for summer pool operations.”
The city’s pools are supposed to open within days — but the Park District is facing a whopping number of vacant lifeguard positions while officials offer more incentives to get those staffers in place.
Park District officials have not specified how many more lifeguards are needed to open pools. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said earlier this month the district was still looking for about 100 lifeguards as a local and national shortage threatens to cut off a perennial summer activity for many Chicagoans.
The district is offering $600 bonuses to new lifeguards, up from $500, and dropping the Chicago residency requirement for candidates, officials said in a news release Wednesday. Lifeguards who end the summer with positive job performance reviews also will be considered for year-round jobs, officials said.
The district also will provide a $500 bonus to current employees who refer someone who successfully signs up for the lifeguard position, according to the Park District.
“Chicago families rely on our park programs during the summer, so we are not giving up. We need lifeguards NOW and are offering great incentives to anyone who is a strong swimmer and interested in keeping the public safe,” Park District Supt. Rosa Escareño said in a statement this week.
It’s been unclear for weeks whether Chicago’s pools would open for the summer. Escareño previously said the district is prioritizing sending existing lifeguards to city beaches “because that’s where most people will actually go.”
But staff at several South and West side pools previously Block Club they will close indoor facilities or they haven’t gotten the go-ahead to open outdoor facilities for summer, meaning residents without easy access to beaches may be out of options.
West Humboldt Park residents rallied Wednesday to demand the Park District reopen a pool in their neighborhood, saying it is a critical resource to give residents safe recreation.
And even as the Park District pleads for more lifeguards, young people newly certified for the job reported a botched registration process at Northerly Island this month in which candidates were turned away, put on a wait list or not given positions at their neighborhood pools and beaches. A Park District spokesperson later said 76 of those 100 candidates finished their onboarding process.
Seasonal Lifeguards must be at least 16, fully vaccinated, pass a skills tests and be properly certified. You can apply here.
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