The summer pool season is underway in Council Bluffs, but obstacles remain.
The city opened Katelman Water Park, 1230 16th Ave., on Saturday. Pirate Cove Water Park remains closed as the city works on a mechanical issue while also working to hire enough lifeguards to have both pools open full time. The city expects to open Pirate Cove in the coming weeks.
“It was a nice smooth opening. (Tuesday) was a good day until that storm. And we’re expecting a good crowd here today,” Council Bluffs Aquatics Director Mike Bond said Wednesday.
Bond said the city has been struggling to fill its lifeguard positions. He’s hopeful the nine members of the current certification class, which ends on June 10, will pass and become employees.
The city traditionally employs around 40 to 45 people full-time at the pools during the same, including managers, concession workers, cashiers and employees. The need right now is lifeguards, while Bond said he’s also brought on some part-time employees to fill gaps.
“Usually it’s a 40-hour work week job,” during the summer season, Bond said.
The city had trouble filling lifeguard positions in 2019 as well.
“It’s something that’s been slowly building,” Bond said. “It’s not just COVID alone, but COVID enhanced it.”
The aquatics director said the pandemic effects include a lower number of certifications over the past year — “those have definitely been limited due to COVID. Now it’s catching up with us” — along with the reticence of some to return to the workforce because of the virus, while others are looking for only part-time work.
The struggle to hire isn’t unique to Council Bluffs pools. A lifeguard shortage in Omaha led the city to adjust its public pool hours. Bond said he’s heard similar stories from the Omaha suburbs. And media outlets have reported shortages in the Sioux City, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas and beyond in Iowa.
And, there’s an overall workforce shortage throughout the state and U.S. Iowa’s unemployment rate is 3.8%, 10th lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While Bond is hopeful the class that ends June 10 brings positive results, he’s hopeful more potential lifeguards apply.
“We just encourage people if they’re interested in guarding, to get on the website and we’ll get a hold of them,” Bond said.
Applications are available at councilbluffs-ia.gov under the “Employment” tab. Bond noted the starting salary has been increased to $12 per hour.
And if the shortage continues, Bond said the city is working on a contingency plan. The Nonpareil reached him while he was at a meeting to discuss the issue. Options include reduced hours and alternate days of operation for Katelman and Pirate Cove, once the latter is open for business.
“It’s just a matter of which one we decide to go with at that point,” he said. “But we’re trying to make it to where we have options for both pools.”
Katelman is currently open seven days a week from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday. Go to bit.ly/3g7NZ8C for more information.