CHICAGO — The Park District will open 37 pools this summer — less than half of the city’s 77 public pools — while limiting access to some beaches amid a lifeguard shortage, officials announced tuesday.
The Park District was only able to hire 55 percent of the lifeguards it needed to open all facilities, according to a news release. As a result, just a portion of the city’s pools will open, and some beaches will have closures.
Portions of Calumet Beach and North Avenue Beach will be closed, and swimming will be prohibited at 12th Street Beach, allowing the Park District to divert lifeguards to pools, according to the agency. Fifteen indoor and 22 outdoor pools will open July 5.
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Park District Supt. Rosa Escareño said the plan allows the agency to “maximize our limited workforce,” as there will be a pool open within 2 miles of many Chicago residents, according to the agency.
Which pools to open were selected based on “geographical location, staffing requirements and availability, the condition of the pool, historical usage, pool capacity, access to public transportation and safety considerations,” according to the Park District.
Twenty-one of the city’s beaches will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Labor Day.
- Calumet Beach: The area north of the Coast Guard station will close.
- North Avenue Beach: The northern section of the beach, south of Fullerton Avenue, will close.
- 12th Street Beach: Swimming will be completely prohibited.
The Park District had pushed back its target date to open pools from June 24 to July 5, hoping more upfront cash, relaxed residency requirements and the extra time would get enough staff in place. But the city, like all of the country, has struggled with a lifeguard shortage.
Parents and prospective hopefuls told Block Club the Park District had lost applicants because of a disorganized hiring process, low pay and cutbacks to swim programs and facilities.
Dezria Holmes, whose daughter is a first-time lifeguard at Rainbow Beach, said she’s been disappointed by the Park District’s frequent shuffling of plans.
“We’re still sitting back with ‘wait and see’ attitude beacause everything keeps changing,” Holmes said earlier this month. “A lot of people have gotten fed up and gave up.”
Some also said the lifeguard sex abuse scandal and the concerns it created about Park District leaders eroded trust in the agency.
The Park District had raised its upfront cash bonus from $500 and $600, but former lifeguards said the job’s extended training, long hours and low pay of $15.88 hourly was not enough to incite and sustain interest from applicants.
Park District officials said they’ve been able to make substantial headway in hiring and cited the pandemic as the source of staffing problems.
“The Park District is not alone in this post pandemic worker shortage, the national lifeguard shortage and the Great Resignation have impacted our ability to hire employees,” Escareño said in a statement. “Even with the unprecedented incentives we’re offering, the competitive job market made it difficult for us to go against local businesses paying youth summer job wages ranging between $18-$20 an hour.
“We understand the frustration of Chicago residents and are committed to continue summer hiring to further increase community pool access.”
The Park District closed all indoor pools last year due to a similar shortage of workers. But it’s opting to open some this summer to provide as many Chicagoans as possible a safe swimming option closer to home, according to the agency.
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