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Small staff means short season for local pools

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Sunnyside pool instructor Sarah Kilian offers some swimming tips to eager youngster Lex Luther of Outlook.

The Sunnyside and Grandview municipal pools close after Saturday, Aug. 25, just before the school year begins for local youths.

Even though the Lower Valley still has warm summer days through September, officials from both cities say the closures are necessary primarily because of a lack of lifeguards.

"All the lifeguards leave to go to school," said Sandra Medrano, recreation coordinator for the city of Sunnyside.

She said the city hired 20 lifeguards at the start of the summer season and that number is now down to 10 because of some leaving early for vacation or deciding they are done for the summer.

The lifeguards left behind are working long hours, Medrano noted.

"It's not that we want to close the pool," she said. "But every year the staffing is smaller."

Medrano said one way the city may try to attract and retain more lifeguards in the future is refund the $150 cost for the lifeguard class with the stipulation the person sees the pool season through to the end of summer.

Jordan Arreola is the city's finance director and noted that for the second year in a row the pool will exceed revenue expectations. As a result, she said there may be some consideration during review for the 2008 budget to enhancing the swim program.

Arreola said a big boost this year is better than usual revenues from pool rentals. Medrano attributed that in part to a new and improved water slide, as well as an advertising push at the beginning of summer.

Staffing isn't the only factor for why Sunnyside closes its pool in August.

"The city council wanted it to be open through Labor Day, but it's not used very much during that time," Medrano said, noting that late August and September see a decline in the number of swimmers because of milder summer temperatures.

This Labor Day, though, Medrano said the city is considering opening the pool over the holiday weekend, especially if temperatures are warmer than usual.

Mike Carpenter is the parks and recreation director for Grandview and said that city's pool closes in August for much the same reason Sunnyside's does.

"The obvious reason is school starts," Carpenter said. "We lose most of our staff to school or college." He added, "In years past interest in the pool dwindles in mid to late August."

Carpenter noted a couple of years ago the month of August had hotter than normal temperatures, prompting the city to open the pool for a few hours each day after school.

"We got some attendance," Carpenter said. "But we had to also look at justifying staying open when we only have a few kids in the pool."

With about two weeks left in the swim season, Grandview's pool program has generated about 70 percent of the revenues originally anticipated.

Carpenter said the less than expected revenue is likely because the Grandview pool lacks some of the popular amenities, such as diving boards and a slide.

"As a staff we're going to sit down and see how we can generate more audience for our pool," Carpenter said. One idea under consideration is to offer teen nights at the pool next summer.

On the positive side, Carpenter said the city's pool program this year was able to attract the 12 lifeguards it needed to staff swim times. But he noted there is an increasing lack of reserve, or younger, lifeguards who make up the future contingent of pool staff.

"We'd like to have a few more reserve lifeguards, building for the next year and keeping that momentum going," he said.

In an effort to attract more lifeguards, Carpenter said the city is considering refunding the $150 fee it costs to take a lifeguard class.

Sarah Kilian is a swim instructor and lifeguard for the Sunnyside pool. She said the answer to keeping the pool open into September may be a reduced block of pool times after the school day ends.

"If we had shorter sessions, maybe for three hours after school is out, we might be able to have more lifeguards and be open in September," Kilian said.

Whatever the answer may be, Sunnyside and Grandview both appear interested in tweaking their pool programs next year to get the most swim for their buck.

"We're trying to figure out some ways to better the program for next year," Medrano said.

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