Recreation departments across Pennsylvania are preparing to kick off their outdoor public pool seasons starting Memorial Day Weekend, marking for many the first full-capacity summer since the pandemic began.
The Township of Upper St. Clair in western Pennsylvania offers an outdoor, four-lane pool in the summer to its 20,000 residents. They provide swim classes from ages six months to 13 years old.
Chris Biswick, aquatics supervisor for the Township, said the biggest challenge is the ongoing lifeguard shortage, which was exacerbated by COVID-19 as many in-person certifications were delayed.
“We are about a month behind than we normally are with our staffing levels,” Biswick noted. “What we have done to curb that, we have been doing a reimbursement program for our lifeguards, so if they take the life guarding class, after 13 weeks of employment, we’ll reimburse the cost of the life guarding program.”
The cost of lifeguard certification is typically around $300. Biswick added they have also increased their wages to $13 per hour. To become a lifeguard certified by the American Red Cross, applicants must be at least 15 years old and complete a swimming test.
Todd Roth, aquatics supervisor for the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, said it has been difficult filling leadership positions for their summer program, which includes two outdoor pools with waterslides and spray features.
He pointed out access to the pool program goes beyond educational and public-safety purposes.
“In addition to that, having the recreation amenities available in aquatics is a huge part of the daily quality of life for many families in our region,” Roth explained. “They see the swimming pools as a destination. That’s part of their summer routine.”
The starting wage for lifeguards at the Centre Region pools is $12.50 an hour, and leadership positions start at $13.50 an hour. Roth confirmed Centre Region averages 100,000 to 120,000 summer visits to the pools.