Charlottesville Parks and Recreation patrons will be swimming at half-staff this summer.
Mired in the same shortage of trained lifeguards that is afflicting public and private pools across the country this summer, city parks officials say they will try and swimmers in the deep end by alternating which pools are open and moving staff between sites.
Beginning Saturday, pools will operate on an alternating schedule so that only one pool will be open each day. That will allow pools to operate with sufficient safety staff on site.
Onesty Family Aquatic Center will be open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Washington Park Pool will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m..
“Of course the goal is to get to full opening which we will do as soon as we possibly can. But in the current state of things, we just wanted to make sure that we were equitable,” said Michael Johnson, city aquatics manager. “We wanted to make sure that we offered a weekend day for each of our outdoor locations.”
Summer pool passes are valid at both pools as well as Smith Aquatic & Fitness Center, officials said. That will allow patrons to use an outdoor or an indoor pool each day of the week. Spray grounds will continue to be open daily during the summer.
Johnson said Parks and Recreation needs to hire a little more than 20 additional lifeguards in order to return to full hours. The goal is to open the pools full time as soon as enough lifeguards are hired.
When that will be is hard to predict, he said.
“If we could somehow be back to entirely normal in the next three days, then I would give the order to go forward with that and open the pools full time,” Johnson said.
That seems unlikely. Communities across the country are reporting similar problems. According to the American Lifeguard Association, the shortage of trained and certified lifeguards is nationwide and likely to last most of the summer.
The association trains and certifies lifeguards to serve at public and private pools and beaches. Officials said pandemic-related closing of pools across the country in 2020 prevented training of new lifeguards and the recertifying of some lifeguards whose certificates expire every two years.
They said lifeguards were forced to find other work during the pandemic, many jobs of which paid better wages, convincing the lifeguards to not return.
Association officials also predict the shortage will become worse in August when high school and college students return to school, leaving locations high and dry of safety personnel.
Johnson said because of the shortage, the city parks and recreation department is offering its lifeguard certification classes for free, providing the participant commits to working as a lifeguard after receiving the certification.
The class is typically a couple hundred dollars, Johnson said.
“If somebody has a passion for the water and they just don’t have a certification, we can provide that. If you want to work with us, then we’ll make your class free for you,” he said.
The department is also offering a signing bonus of $250, with potential for an additional $250 bonus if the lifeguard stays with the city the whole summer.
For more information, interested parties can visit www.charlottesville.gov/276/Aquatics.