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Pools begin receiving grant money to help hire more lifeguards

Lifeguard shortages have limited pool hours, and prompted some pools to offer new incentives to recruit more guards.

DENVER — This scorching hot weekend would be a perfect time to secure a spot by the pool but finding one that's open, with a full staff of lifeguards, is harder to do this summer.

Pools report nationwide lifeguard shortages. This week, the state of Colorado started giving out grant money to help with hiring and retention efforts.

Last month, Democratic Governor Jared Polis announced “Pools Special Initiative 2022” to address staffing shortages. Polis said a statewide survey found pools across the state were only operating at a level around 56% compared to recent years.

That state initiative includes:

  1. Allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to work overtime without a waiver (up to 54 hours)
  2. Offering a $1,000 stipend for the one-week training required for anyone who is hired as a lifeguard
  3. Offering grant funds up to $25,000 per applicant that can be used to increase pay or offer hiring incentives

By Friday, more than 70 grants had been awarded, totaling about $849,000.

The City of Aurora received a grant for the full $25,000.

“When we first started opening our outdoor pools this summer, which happens around Memorial Day, we did have about 170 lifeguards on payroll,” said Erin Pulliam, Superintendent of Marketing and Special Events for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department.

“We need about 300 to be fully staffed. That means all pools open, full operations, everyday of the week.”

Pulliam said the city has hired more lifeguards since – they have about 250 – which is better, but still short. The city prioritized keeping every pool open this summer, but had to limit hours and days of operations in order to do so.

The city has ten pools total: 6 outdoor, and 4 indoor.

The city of Aurora is still deciding exactly how to spend the grant money, but has plans to use it for recruiting new lifeguards and retaining the ones already on staff. 

While summer season is in full swing right now, they expect the shortage to also impact late summer and into winter months.

“Not only do we have a dip in operations in August, when we go to weekends through Labor Day because of school, but we also have indoor pools,” she said. “While this grant money might be a little late for the summer, per se, any applicant and lifeguard coming in is really going to benefit for months to come.”

The City of Lakewood received $12,500 in grant money for lifeguards.

Amber Thill, Manager of Public Engagement and Operations for Lakewood, said the city has already taken steps to recruit and retain lifeguards. That includes raising pay, offering referral bonuses and free training, and spending money on sponsored advertisements for open positions.

The city has 20 vacant lifeguard positions right now it wants to fill, as well as increase hours of operations at pools and offer more swimming lesson services.

Ty Roberts has been a lifeguard for four years, and is currently the pool manager at Glennon Heights Pool in Lakewood.

“We’re struggling for some weekend shifts, but we have some good guards who are able to step up and cover the team with those shifts,” he said. Friday afternoon, he had a staff of five and said the pool is currently open everyday, and for the most part, all day long.

But some pre-pandemic programs still haven’t returned to the pool, and right now, they just can’t make it work with current staffing.

“So there are some things that we did pre-COVID that have just disappeared that the community is looking forward to, that might come back eventually, but for now it’s not a possibility,” he said.

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