Grandville backyard swim school forced to shut down after 33 years

Kent County

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — After three decades of teaching kids lifesaving water skills in the pool of a backyard home in Grandville, Miss Rita’s Swim School is being forced to shut down or face legal action from the city.

The homeowner, Rita Shalhoup, has been running the backyard business for 33 years. But it wasn’t until last year that the city got involved after receiving complaints from neighbors.

“There has been excess litter, noise and traffic in your neighborhood — creating a nuisance and increasing parking congestion on your street as well as on neighboring street — a direct violation of … City ordinance,” Grandville Assistant City Attorney Seth Arthur stated in a letter to Shalhoup.

The letter, dated May 28, gives Shalhoup — better known as Miss Rita — 14 days to comply with the ordinance or face legal action.

Unwilling to take her fight court, an emotional Shalhoup told News 8 she has no choice but to shut down.

“They just keep telling me that there is litter all over and that I’m a nuisance,” she said. “I’ve tried really hard to make it work.”

After three decades of teaching kids life-saving water skills in the pool of a backyard home in Grandville, Miss Rita’s Swim School is being forced to shut down or face legal action from the city. (June 2, 2021)

Since the city got involved last summer, Shalhoup has tried to appease complaining neighbors by cutting back on evening classes and directing parents to park on the next street over.

Her efforts are not proving to be enough for upset neighbors or city officials.

“We want compliance,” Grandville Assistant City Manager Matt Butts said. “It’s not swim lessons, it’s drown-proofing kids. So, there’s a lot of screaming involved, and we’ve had complaints from neighbors about that.”

In addition to the noise, Butts said Shalhoup’s efforts to redirect parking have caused congestion on neighboring streets.

Earlier this year, the city issued Shalhoup a ticket for being in violation of the ordinance, slapping her with a $150 fine.

“She paid that but continued to do it; that’s when we sought (legal) help,” Butts said.

The city’s latest move has sparked outrage among Shalhoup’s loyal supporters.

“I can’t imagine why anybody would want to shut this down because there’s nobody that even comes close to giving parents the peace of mind that she does,” Leah Theriault, a parent of two young kids in the swim program, said.

After three decades of teaching kids life-saving water skills in the pool of a backyard home in Grandville, Miss Rita’s Swim School is being forced to shut down or face legal action from the city. (June 2, 2021)

Miss Rita’s Swim School has grown increasingly popular over the years, holding 10 classes throughout the day. She teaches 75 or so kids on any given day.

Shalhoup began teaching kids water safety skills after her son nearly drowned in the backyard pool as a toddler.

“This is an aggressive program, and we teach the kids how to swim and save themselves,” Shalhoup said.

The success of Miss Rita’s unique program has gained her a big following over the years. One family at a Wednesday lesson made a three-hour trip from Naperville, Illinois just to learn from Miss Rita.

“Clearly, a lot of parents appreciate her and trust her, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, and we would never have driven (from Illinois) if I didn’t think it was worth it as well,” Kayleigh Borchardt said.

While there’s no doubting the swim lessons are noisy, the only neighbor willing to talk to News 8 Wednesday said she’s not bothered by it.

“I live directly across the street and I’ve heard there were complaints of trash in the street, never seen it,” Renee Bouley said. “I don’t mind the noise at all.”

Bouley said she has always supported Miss Rita’s Swim School and would be sad to see the program go.

“If only everybody would take into account what she is doing and all the lives she’s saved and not the noise,” Bouley said.

Feeling she has no choice but to shutdown to follow the city ordinance, next week’s swim session will likely be the last.

Shalhoup said once closed, she doesn’t know what will come of the program as she said the liability insurance cost for a public pool is too expensive and moving out of the neighborhood isn’t in the cards for her family right now.

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