ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The jacuzzi jets are finally running full throttle again after a couple of dry summers with little or no pools and spray pads open during the pandemic.
Many communities across New York and the nation still struggle through the hiring shortage while looking for enough lifeguards to safely open their facilities. As NEWS10 sister station PIX11 reports, New York City’s 50 or so public pools opened officially Tuesday, despite only having approximately 620 lifeguards on staff. The city needs 1,500 to fully staff the pools and beaches, a spokesperson says to PIX11.
Similarly, Buffalo’s deputy commissioner of Parks & Recreation announced Tuesday the city’s pools will not reopen this year due to the lifeguard shortage.
The Capital Region is lucky by comparison. Albany’s Department of Recreation, Youth & Workforce Services Commissioner Jonathan Jones says the city is offering competitive pay and comfortable work schedules to keep their staff numbers afloat.
“We reduced our hours in the sun. So our guards used to be in the sun for 30 minutes on a rotation. Now it’s 15 minutes. It just gives them a little more time to have a reprieve and get some drinks and it just has a better environment because of it,” Jones explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Jones says the city has around 60 lifeguards on staff who are all a mix of new and seasoned recruits. He says the aquatics program benefits form a certification pipeline so the newer recruits can keep the summer pool-goers safe when their predecessors go back to college later in the season and before the pool’s official closing on Labor Day.
When NEWS10 visited the Lincoln Park pool on Thursday, there were more than a dozen lifeguards in the pool’s perimeter and even more in the area rotating their breaks. Jones says the city is ready to hire even more staff, because there’s a method behind having a surplus of attentive eyes.
“Having more eyes on the pool helps our lifeguards not have to worry about outside the pool, who’s playing on the playground, who’s up on the hill. It just creates a safer environment for everyone who’s here,” he says.
Over in Colonie, Town Supervisor Peter Crummey says they’ve also upped their lifeguard pay and had done extra prep work to open the pools even earlier by Memorial Day weekend.
“People want to be out again. The cloistered atmosphere that we were all under for quite some time, people want to move forward and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s also a great get for the lifeguards because the summer is so short here in the Capital Region, and for our lifeguards, they now have more time to work since I can see everybody is looking for more hours,” Crummey says.
He says the town has 21 lifeguards on staff for now, which is enough to staff the Mohawk River Park and Pool and splash pads. He adds they’ll never say no to more helpers now that hours have been extended to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and with swim teams reserving private time before and afterwards.
“More than half of [the lifeguards] are returnees. They like working there. Their friends are working there. The camaraderie alone that is fostered in our parks and recreation system, I believe, gives rise to people wanting to come back,” Crummey says.
Meanwhile in Troy, a dozen lifeguards in training were seen Thursday preparing for the renovated South Troy Pool opening on Friday. Communications Director John Salka says the city partners with the Boys and Girls Club to secure staff and avoid the shortage.
“It takes a bit of the administrative work off our backs in terms of securing the necessary workforce to come and work the pools. That’s certainly very helpful, and it allows us to focus on getting the facility itself up and running, so balancing the chemicals, testing the filtration system, and things like that,” Salka explains.
“There is a lot of work that goes into getting a pool up and running each year, and so we’re able to focus our parks and rec staff on that side and we have the Boys and Girls Club assistance on the lifeguard side,” he goes on to say.
Salka says the next project after the South Troy pool was finally completed in 2020 will be to revamp the city’s Knickerbacker Pool in Lansingburgh. That facility is currently closed due to “safety and structural deficiencies.”
Albany is also looking to improve its Lincoln Park Pool which has been leaking around 500,000 gallons of water per day for several years, according to the city’s water commissioner. Ground has already broken on a new facility and residents can currently vote on how they’d like their new pool to look.
“This pool here was built in 1931. That’s a long time ago and things have changed since then. Our standards and regulations have changed, so of course it is time for a new one,” says Jones.
“The pros to Plan A are that it is separated. The spray pad and the lap swim and the zero entry each have their own space. It will allow younger kids space on their own, but the con though is that it’s going to use a lot of water,” he explains.
“On the other hand, the B design that’s all inclusive is going to keep everything tight together which will help us reduce the number of lifeguards we will need to have since everything will be in one area,” Jones further details.
Lincoln Park Pool is now open daily until Labor Day from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and can be found at 701 Lincoln Park Road. The six spray pads in Albany will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are located in:
- Colonie St. Park
- Hackett Park
- Krank Park
- Lincoln Park
- North Swan St. Park
- Westland Hills Park
The South Troy Pool will open officially July 1 at 1 p.m. and daily admission will be free with open swim from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free children’s swim lessons will also be available in July and August.