Lifeguard staffing tight as Grand Rapids city pools reopen

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids parks were filled with the sights and sounds of a return to normal Friday: City pools opened for the first time since August 2019.

Rashawn Lofton brought her kids, niece and nephew to the pool at Martin Luther King Park early Friday afternoon.

“They woke up at like 10 o’clock and was like, ‘Is the pool open?’ I’m like, ‘Not till 1 o’clock,'” she said.

After a year without a pool thanks to the pandemic, getting the kids in the water was the easy part. Getting them out will be another story.

“It’s going to be tough at 4 and they open back up it 5. It’s going to be real tough. They’re going to be crying and everything,” Lofton said.

The pool will undergo cleaning during that period.

Lifeguards on duty at Martin Luther King Park Pool in Grand Rapids on June 11, 2021.

Like so many other businesses and services, the pandemic has caused a challenge when it comes to recruiting lifeguards for the city’s three swimming pools.

“When pools were shut down last season, kids and lifeguards that have historically come back to these organizations again and again went and found other employment. They’re now returning to that employment this summer,” Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Director David Marquardt said.

Marquardt said the problem isn’t unique to Grand Rapids.

“What I’m seeing across the country is that park and rec organizations are having a really difficult time filling lifeguard positions,” he said.

The city usually has 80 lifeguards for the swim season. This year, it has been able to recruit just 40. That’s enough to staff the pools, but cutting it close if a few lifeguards call in sick.

“I don’t think it will mean that we have to shut down. It might mean that we are fluctuating our capacity, a little bit, depending on lifeguard numbers,” Marquardt said.
Unlike private businesses, the city hasn’t offered signing bonuses for lifeguards.

“But one thing that we have done consistently and we are doing again this year is that we are paying for lifeguard training if people do not have that certification,” Marquardt said. “A little shameless plug: we do have positions available for lifeguard positions if people are interested.”

You can apply online.

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