Cleveland Opens All Outdoor Pools for Season Despite Ongoing Lifeguard Shortage

The city has increased lifeguard pay to $15/hour in an attempt to attract more staff

click to enlarge Cleveland operates dozens of parks, pools, playgrounds and more. - Maria Elena Scott
Maria Elena Scott
Cleveland operates dozens of parks, pools, playgrounds and more.
After complaints last summer that not all of the city's pools were open during regular hours, a problem stemming from staffing issues, Cleveland this week announced that all of the city's pools and splash pads will open this weekend and stay that way through the next three months.

The lifeguard shortage hasn't changed, and Cleveland is hardly alone in dealing with the issue, but the city is seeking to remedy the situation by upping pay and streamlining training requirements.

Across the country, city governments are attempting to open their full stock of pools, lakes and beaches after months of preparation to beef up staffing. In Los Angeles, lifeguard pay shot up 20 percent to $26/hour—$31/hour for those overseeing lakes. In Detroit, beaches were closed on Memorial Day due to lack of help.

And New York City's recreation department upped lifeguard pay to $22/hour, plus a $1,000 bonus, to try and cover the 1,500 it needs to properly man all of its pools and beaches. (Mayor Eric Adams suggested migrants could help; they're "excellent swimmers," he said.)

“And that is no different here,” Recreation Commissioner Sam Gissentaner said in a statement to Scene.

“We strategically came up with a plan that maximizes our limited resources," he said, "through a creative schedule that allows all operable pools citywide to be open throughout the summer with safety at top of mind.”
Gissentaner's primary tactic, following other cities' lead, is to raise incoming lifeguard pay to $15/hour once hired, a $4 increase from what those workers made in 2021, when a good portion of Cleveland's pools were closed. Also, trainees are now able to earn cash while training, which also wasn't the case previously.

Cleveland has a relative bounty of public pools, but closures over the past four years have further impacted Clevelanders' opinions of the parks system. In January, a Parks and Rec Master Plan survey of 555 Clevelanders revealed that many felt unopened pools swayed their opinions of city parks into the negative.

Lifeguarding isn't a job full of sun-drenched leisure. Lifeguards have to practice and demonstrate quick water rescues and be adept in CPR, First Aid and operation of defibrillators. It's why the city is fast-tracking the application procedure for any prospective hires with Red Cross certifications.

Pool schedules are pretty much the same as last summer. All pools will be open from noon to about 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and will shut for the season on August 18. Swimmers can swim only on 45-minute intervals "to maximize customer usage," and must leave and return to continuing swimming. Deep ends will be off limit this year.

Pools at the following locations are currently closed for renovation: Central Neighborhood Resource and Rec Center (NRRC), Clark NRRC, Cory NRRC, Gunning NRRC, Glendale Park, Lonnie Burten's outdoor pool, Lake Park, Sterling NRRC, and Woodland's indoor pool.

A full list of the city's pools and splash pads can be found on its website.

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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