The Crusader Newspaper Group

Park District reportedly pushes back pool openings to July 5

Photo caption: California Park outdoor pool

The opening of Chicago’s public pools has been pushed back because of a lifeguard shortage, according to a report on NBC5 Chicago on Wednesday, June 21.

According to the report, the Park District’s opening of the city’s 49 outdoor pools will be rescheduled to July 5.

The report raises questions after the Park District last week said it was on track to open all public pools for the summer season on June 23.

The report quoted an unnamed Park District official who said, “While we have a sufficient number of lifeguards protecting our beaches, which opened May 27, several factors, including the national lifeguard shortage, impact the District’s ability to secure ample staffing for our pools.”

The official also said, “Opening pools on July 5 will allow the District additional time to recruit and implement a strategy that provides pool resources to as many communities as possible this summer.”

Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons did not respond on Wednesday, June 21, to a Crusader email in response to the report.

The report did not say when or whether Chicago’s 44 outdoor pools will reopen. In the city’s Black wards, there are 19 indoor pools and 26 outdoor pools, according to a Crusader analysis of Park District data.

Last summer nine indoor pools and 19 outdoor pools in the Black wards were closed. That’s a total of 28 pools that were closed last summer in the Black wards.

On June 14, less than two hours after WVON radio discussed on air the Crusader’s latest story on potential summer pool closures in Black wards, the Park District announced that it was on track to reopen all swimming facilities in Chicago later this month.

The announcement capped a series of collaborative stories published by the Crusader and Chicago’s Black Press, which last month launched a joint project to investigate the Park District’s closure of 28 pools last year in the city’s Black wards. That was nearly half of the 57 pools the Park District closed last summer, citing a national lifeguard shortage. Instead, the Park District’s redirected its lifeguards to work the city’s 22 beaches, which opened on Memorial Day weekend.

With few fitness gyms, private clubs, luxury rental apartments, condominiums, YMCAs and hotels on the South and West sides, there was concern that residents in Black wards would be hit the hardest with the impending pool closures.

There was also concern that the Park District did not view the lifeguard shortage as urgent, as it faced another year of potential pool closures. Some aldermen called on the Park District to step up its recruitment efforts to address the lifeguard shortage as it continued to impact cities across the country.

Throughout the Crusader investigation, Park District officials gave little to no answers to questions about its lifeguard staff and how it determines which pools to close and which to keep open.

Concerned about the impending closures in the Black wards, the Chicago Crusader, WVON, the Chicago News Weekly, N’DIGO Magazine and TBT News began a special collaborative project to investigate the pool closures. The Crusader’s stories on the Park District were shared and posted on all those news outlets’ websites and discussed on WVON’S popular Perri Small Show.

Less than a week before the pool openings were delayed, the Park District said about 1,800 people applied for lifeguard positions, more than twice the 850 applicants from 2022.

They said lifeguards this summer will be paid $16.20 hourly, compared to $15.88 last year. In addition, the lifeguard applicants were offered a $600 bonus for completing lifeguard training and free tickets to Chicago Fire soccer home games upon completion of the lifeguard swim test. Applicants will also have a chance to win a one-day pass to Chicago’s Lollapalooza concert and a Divvy membership pass.

The Park District also replaced its Chicago residency policy and waived the fees for lifeguard registration and certification.

Andrew Walsh, Chicago Park District’s beaches and pool manager, told Block Club Chicago that more than 300 lifeguards are being trained to staff the facilities. Park officials are also working to hire summer recreation leaders for the season.

For Chicago’s Black wards, the announcement came at a time when Black leaders are calling for more resources and activities to keep young people busy during the long summer season.

Last summer residents in Black wards were forced to visit Chicago’s beaches to cool off. In Alderman Jeanette Taylor’s 20th Ward, six pools were closed, including Washington Park’s massive outdoor pool, which has an eight-lane Olympic size pool attached to leisure pools, along with a separate diving pool. In Anthony Beale’s 9th Ward, Palmer Pool, Abbott Pool and West Pullman Park School pool were all closed last summer.

On June 10, the Crusader published a story that confirmed reports that Washington Park’s outdoor pool will reopen this summer. On June 14, a Crusader journalist discussed the story on Perri Small’s morning show on WVON. Two hours later, Block Club Chicago reported that the Park District was on track to reopen all the pools in Chicago.

For its story on Washington Park’s outdoor pool, the Crusader spoke to four individuals who said that preparations were underway to open the popular swimming facility on June 23. The pool had been closed for at least two years. Data the Crusader obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show work had been done on the pool and its deck while it was closed.

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