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State hopes OT for teens, grant money will get more pools open

Due to labor shortages, only 57% of pools across Colorado are currently open.

AURORA, Colo. — Gov. Jared Polis, along with state and local officials, announced actions Tuesday morning with the goal of expanding swimming pool access this summer.

Some local governments have delayed opening swimming pools due to a lack of staffing. Polis said they conducted a statewide survey and found that pools across the state were operating at a level of about 56% compared to recent years.

That could mean pools are not open, or are operating at reduced hours.

“Like everything across our state, it’s hard to hire people, and what we particularly heard as we reached out to parks departments and pool supervisors across the state is hiring lifeguards and supervisors is really what’s holding back more pool openings," Polis said.

On Tuesday, Polis shared new incentives in the hopes of attracting more workers. The Pools Special Initiative 2022 has three main components.

  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 that can be used to increase pay or offer hiring incentives

"We are supporting our parks and rec departments, our cities, everybody who runs public pools with a grant program of up to $25,000 that will effectively pay for additional staffing, including overtime, raises, recruitment bonuses, all of the above," Polis said. “Trust me, it’s no belly flop. We are getting this done!”

And instead of nothing, aspiring lifeguards will get paid during training.  

"Now you will be able to earn $1,000 for the week that you were in training and then get a job right out," Polis said. "The trainings, those are being scheduled by the county workforce centers. There’s going to be some as soon as a week or two from now, but those will also be through July depending on where you live in our state.”

"A better opportunity is what's caused most of the loss in lifeguard staff," said Joe Sack, recreation services manager for the City of Aurora. “As with anybody in the workforce right now, they have a lot more choices, and this doesn’t change for lifeguards.”

"We're competing with fast food restaurants for this workforce, and they're starting at $17, $18 an hour," Sack said. “The competitive salary needs to be there, and that’s a starting point to try to bring people back to this job.”

He said this year they raised their lifeguards' pay from $14 to $16 an hour, which did help to increase their staff. 

"But we're still so understaffed," Sack said. "Typically, we need 300 lifeguards to operate all of our pools at full capacity, and right now we're just under 200, so that's why the reduced hours."

All of Aurora's 10 pools are open, but some are only open one day a week. 

"What we'd like to do is look at some more incentives, hiring bonuses, that sort of thing to get people into the profession," Sack said.

In Denver, six indoor pools were closed as of June 5, the city said. Denver Parks and Recreation was also hiring lifeguards.

RELATED: Here's when Denver metro area pools are opening

Sack hopes it'll all make an impact, so that all of their pools can operate at full capacity once again. 

"I think it's going to drive more youth into looking into this as a profession," Sack said. "I think this is a great proposal to try and stimulate this job market."

The grant program is a partnership between the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. DOLA will provide $250,000 and OREC will provide $100,000 to support this program.

Grant availability through the DOLA Grants Portal opens June 21 and remains open through June 28 at midnight. Awards will be made on July 1.

Awards will be for a maximum of $25,000 per recipient. 

The waiver for overtime allows 16- and 17-year-old lifeguards to work limited overtime hours of no more than 10 hours per day up to 54 hours per week. It expires on Sept. 5.

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