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Problems plaguing pools

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

CHARLESTON -- From a shallow pool of lifeguards to maintenance problems with aging facilities, nearby public swimming pools are having trouble staying afloat this summer.

"We just can't get lifeguards -- nobody's interested," said Mike McIlroy, Charleston parks director. "We ran an ad in the paper for at least two weeks."

This has been a recurring problem in Charleston the past few years. "We've been fortunate that somebody's stepped up at the last minute the last couple of years," he said.

Two girls had expressed interest to be summer lifeguards, but failed the Red Cross certification.

On Monday, McIlroy met with two girls who already had summer jobs lined up to consider opening the pool part-time, cutting the hours and days it was open. But, he decided two would not be enough to operate the pool.

"We need four at least, because they have to rotate every so often," McIlroy said. Additionally, fewer patrons would be allowed in the pool at a time with only two lifeguards.

In the five years that Ronnie Eichhorn has been a city worker in Chaffee, he can't recall ever having problems with finding lifeguards. But, he can understand where the hours involved could be a deal maker or breaker.

"It's summer work," he said. The seasonal work, plus daytime hours could be an attraction. But with two sessions a day, plus morning swimming lessons for two months, it is a big responsibility.

In Charleston, lifeguards would normally work six days a week, but only work about five hours a day, accumulating a mere 30-some hours a week. "They can probably make more if they get a full-time job," McIlroy said.

The pay isn't that flattering, either, McIlroy said. In Charleston, the pay ranges from minimum wage -- $5.15 an hour -- to $6.50 an hour.

Summer pool parties are still an option, McIlroy said. And if certified lifeguards can be found, the pool will open later in the summer, he assured.

"We want to open it," he said, adding that the pool is already in use by the swim team. "It's full, it's clean -- everything's good to go except the lifeguards."

Other problems plague city swimming pools, too.

For instance, Portageville's swimming pool, which normally opens Memorial Day, has yet to open because of leaks and plumbing problems.

"It's just taken us a little longer to get going this year," said Joanne Sisson, chairwoman of Portageville's Park Board. "Every year, it's a major overhaul to get it going."

Sisson said the city hopes to have the pool up and running by the end of the week. She blamed the age of the 50-plus-year-old pool for the constant problems, which town residents have come to expect.

Age is a factor that makes Chaffee's pool -- which was built in 1939 as a WPA project -- hard to maintain, too.

"It's an older pool, so it is a little bit more difficult to upkeep," Eichhorn said. "It required a lot of maintenance."

Keeping the pools going is expensive, too. "I'm sure if it makes money, it just barely breaks even," Eichhorn said of the Chaffee pool.

Sisson agreed, saying the Portageville pool may only support the cost of the chemicals and having the pool open, but not labor.

Portageville and Chaffee pools are not as popular as they once were.

Eichhorn, who grew up in Chaffee, recalled how difficult it was to get in the pool to swim when he was a child. "Now, the pool would probably do good at attracting 50 children," he said.

Sisson has also noted a decline in the past two years. She and Eichhorn said lower attendance could be due to other activities, like summer school and little league, or families having their own pools.

With all the problems at the Portageville pool, the city considered shutting down the pool for the summer. "We thought we'd give it one more try," Sisson said.

But regardless of the problems, pools are an important part of the town. "We consider it a service to have the pool open," Sisson said.

Eichhorn added: "you have to offer some kind of youth activities for the kids in town."

Interested in being a lifeguard at Charleston? Contact City Hall at (573) 683

-3325. All lifeguards must be at least 16 years old and pass the Red Cross certification.