June 20, 2021

Swimming safely into summer

There is a lifeguard shortage in Creston. One local pool administrator said it’s also a statewide issue.

Swimming lessons can also boost pool safety, and the Southern Prairie Family Fitness Center may be offering them soon. Still, without enough lifeguards this summer may not go as swimmingly as some had hoped.

“We have nine certified lifeguards, which will allow us to open the pool Friday at 1 o’clock,” said Park and Recreation director Mark Huff.

The city of Creston is seeking to hire more lifeguards. Requirements include First Aid, CPR, and Red Cross Lifeguard certification — preferably Water Safety Instructor. They must be at least 15 years old.

The McKinley Pool will be open this summer from 1 p.m. through 6 p.m. It will be closed on Mondays, and on Saturdays June 19 and 26 because of staffing issues. The pool was closed all of last summer because of coronavirus concerns.

“I can’t expect them to be down there seven days a week. Maybe that’ll change when we have more lifeguards certified,” Huff said.

During the pandemic last year, Southern Prairie’s pool only closed for six weeks.

“In March, we took that opportunity to drain the pool and do some painting and cosmetic upgrades. In hindsight, the pool is probably your safest space to be during covid, because of chlorine. So we didn’t hesitate to do open swims,” said CEO Denise Kuhns, adding they adhered to CDC social distancing guidelines.

Southern Prairie has a summer camp that provides daycare from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. They currently have 26 children enrolled. Swimming is part of the camp.

Kuhns said Southern Prairie will be offering swimming lessons in the near future, and the waitlist is long. Young swimmers must pass a test before they’re allowed to go in the deep end. Lifeguards give them a wristband if they pass.

“Our goal is July 5, right after that holiday weekend so our summer camp kids can have access to that. And I want community kids to have access to that. Eventually I’d like to be able to offer some programs even for whole grade intervention throughout the school year, learn to swim programs, water safety and things like that,” she said.

Southern Prairie offers aquatic group fitness classes for adults with instructors Kalian Smith or Mia Williams. The classes accommodate all levels of skill and ability, from “aqua arthritis” for joint mobility improvement to “aqua power II” strength training. A lifeguard is required for the classes.

Kuhns said high turnover with lifeguards and instructors is her main obstacle, since most of them are high school students. She hopes to add a swimming instruction option to the lifeguard certification process. Kuhns said her lifeguards are paid $8.50 per hour, and that she would consider raising that to $10 for those who get certified and work as swimming instructors as well.

Southern Prairie requires at least two lifeguards on duty during an open swim. Cameron Guajardo was one of them on Wednesday. She will be a junior at Creston High School this fall.

“She has really stepped up taking extra shifts to help keep the pool open,” Kuhns said.

“I had 24 hours in one week on my last paycheck,” Guajardo said.

Kuhns said they ran two lifeguard certification sessions in the spring. Many of the participants did so to work for city pools in other communities. She said city pools pay more because they’re generally larger and busier.

“They want to work outside. Yeah, I don’t blame them. I have two daughters who are lifeguards myself,” she said. “They’ve come down to help when we’re in a pinch but for the most part, they just work the city pool up in Greenfield.”

She said the lifeguard shortage is connected to a broader trend.

“Statewide, there are a lot of pools operating on reduced hours because of staffing. And I’m not even going to say it’s exclusive to pools,” she said. “Everywhere we go, whether we’re in Des Moines or around here people are looking for help. People need to get back to work.”