Jun 1, 2023 - Things to Do

Austin pool crisis averted with lifeguard hires

A lifeguard watches over swimmers at Deep Eddy Pool. Photo courtesy Austin Parks and Recreation Department

Austin pools are fully staffed with lifeguards and due to open on time this summer.

Why it matters: Swimming pools are key oases in our sweltering city.

The big picture: Amid the pandemic and labor shortages, city officials for years struggled to entice enough people to become lifeguards — but now it looks like they've finally unlocked the formula.

What's changed: Money. Plus, "people are ready to get back to work," says Ashley Wells, the City of Austin's aquatic division manager.

  • Austin Parks and Recreation Department officials increased lifeguard pay to avoid the swimming pool crisis of recent years.
  • Starting pay is now $20 per hour — last year, base pay started at $16 an hour.

Flashback: The pay scale changes came after Austin lifeguards organized to press for higher wages.

By the numbers: As of yesterday, 570 lifeguards were ready to work, and another 140 people are due to go through training this week.

  • The city has received about 1,500 lifeguard applications.
  • At this time in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the city had 452 lifeguards onboard — and by the end of the summer, it had a record-setting 865.

What they're saying: "We're proud of the work we've done and the recruitment efforts to get us to this point," Wells tells Axios.

Zoom out: Lifeguard shortages continue to bedevil other parts of the country.

  • About a third of more than 309,000 public pools are affected by the shortage, per estimates from the American Lifeguard Association.

Between the lane lines: In Austin, people ages 15 and up can be lifeguards.

  • The city oversees 45 public aquatic facilities, including Barton Springs Pool, 22 neighborhood pools and 11 splash pads.
  • Lifeguards also receive sick leave benefits, free bus passes and free parking at Zilker Park.

Of note: Gillis Pool in South Austin is non-operational this year due to vandalism, and Givens in East Austin is closed for renovations.

Bottom line: Four seasonal pools — Balcones, Dick Nichols, Dove Springs and Rosewood — open tomorrow, and the rest by mid-June. Find opening times for your neighborhood pools and splash pads here.

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