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Will all Cincinnati public pools open by Memorial weekend? 'Probably not gonna happen'

Children check out the water - and dodge cicadas - at Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale.
Tana Weingartner
Children check out the water - and dodge cicadas - at Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale.

Cincinnati only has enough lifeguards to open eight out of 24 city pools this summer, but a plan for bonus pay aims to recruit more staff.

Lifeguards would get up to $750 as a bonus, and other pool staff would get up to $500. The money would be paid in installments throughout the year and would require a minimum number of hours worked.

Recreation Commission Director Daniel Betts says they're aggressively recruiting to reach full staffing.

"Our challenge is, will we be able to do that significantly enough to have all our pools open by Memorial weekend?" Betts said. "I think that's insanity; that's not probably gonna happen. That doesn't mean we won't work diligently to increase the number of guards so we can open up more pools."

The city needs at least 214 lifeguards to staff all the pools, plus another 162 employees to work as pool manager, gate monitor, pool monitor, etc. As of Monday, only 87 people are certified and committed to work as lifeguards. In all, about a third of the needed staff is hired.

Betts says the biggest recruiting problem is that other lifeguarding jobs in the area pay more. Cincinnati pays between $11.53 and $12.40 an hour for lifeguards; Coney Island pays $14 an hour, and Kings Island pays $18.

Betts says he tried to raise the hourly wage earlier this year, but the city's HR department denied the request. Even if the money is available, Betts says it's not a simple change.

"If we were to increase our lifeguards pay to $18 — our pool managers, who supervise them, make $18. And those are not young people, those are adults," Betts says. "The bottom line is, all this needs to be increased over time. There's not a part time position or full time position, probably, in our system, that couldn't benefit from having some sort of analysis on their pay range."

The CRC has been recruiting for lifeguards since last November, using social media, visits to schools and swim meets, job fairs, emails directly from Cincinnati Public Schools administration, and health expos.

"We've also explored what we call 'guerilla marketing,' and that is literally being on the street, at the bus stop in people's faces, at the local church," Betts said. "The gloves are definitely off for us in terms of how we approach getting this word out."

Upcoming plans include more CPS school visits, a message from the mayor and city manager's office, yard signs, radio messages, and a possible referral bonus for current guards.

Lifeguard trainings are scheduled for six upcoming dates, and more classes may be added. The training is free.

With current staffing levels, eight pools would open this summer:

  • McKie (May 28 to Sep 5)
  • Dunham-Otto Armleder (May 28 to Aug 13)
  • Oakley (May 28 to Aug 13)
  • Pleasant Ridge (Jun 6 to Sep 5)
  • Evanston (Jun 6 to Aug 13)
  • Dempsey (Jun 6 to Aug 13)
  • Hirsch-Otto Armleder (Jun 6 to Aug 13)
  • Lincoln (Jun 6 to Aug 13)

Another four pools could open some days over the summer if some of the original eight have "brownout" dates so staff could switch locations.
The bonus pay plan would cost around $183,000. The money is already part of the CRC budget.

Council's Budget and Finance Committee gave initial approval to the ordinance Monday, and it will be up for a final vote Wednesday.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.