AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – When the weather gets hot, families across Colorado love splashing around in the neighborhood swimming pool, but a lifeguard shortage is making it hard to keep the cool tradition going. Now, Gov. Jared Polis, along with other state and local officials, is jumping in to get more pools open and expand hours.
“Getting our pools open is truly a watershed moment for our state, and trust me it’s no bellyflop, we’re getting this done,” Polis said at a press event Tuesday.
Years after an accident left her paralyzed from the chest down, the swimming pool has become a sanctuary of sorts for Chris Layne. For the Aurora resident, each lap in the pool is a chance to not just exercise her body but clear her mind.
“I try to make it 2 to 3 times a week. I swim a mile each time,” Layne said. “It is the best overall therapy I can have.”
This year, Layne’s laps have been fewer and further between, as Aurora, like many other cities, struggles to hire lifeguards. That’s meant reduced hours and amenities to start the season at several pools.
“It was detrimental,” she said. “There were a couple weeks I couldn’t come at all.”
On Tuesday, Polis and other local leaders announced a plan to change that. It includes offering $1,000 to new lifeguards who complete training and start work, as well as allowing 16 and 17 year olds to work more overtime.
There will also be a new grant program for cities to hire and retain pool staff, as well as pay overtime. Each city can apply for up to $25,000.
“This additional funding , we believe will enable us to hire the talent, the trained talent necessary to keep all of our pools open this summer,” said Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman.
In Aurora, Parks, Recreation & Open Space is already offering free and paid training, and the departments has worked to shift around staff. They’re changes that have made things better, but not where they need to be ahead of a hot and busy summer.
“To be fully staffed and have all of our pools open at normal operating hours we need about 300 lifeguards, and we’re still about 50 short,” said Erin Pulliam, superintendent of marketing and special events for the City. “We just need to keep getting applications and we need to keep hiring and keep pushing people through the process and trainings and getting them staffed and on board.”
Polis said the overtime rule is effective immediately and the grant funding will start going out July 1. The state will pay the first half up front, and the rest when a city shows it has increased hours and opened pools.