Lifeguard shortage puts damper on summer swim season for some suburbs
With Illinois in Phase 5 recovery from the coronavirus, hitting the beach or pool has become a welcome diversion. But at Diamond Lake in Mundelein, a lifeguard shortage is limiting that opportunity.
Starting this week, the beach on Diamond Lake Road west of Route 45 will be closed Mondays through Thursdays and open only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
According to the Mundelein Park & Recreation District, the closing of pools and beaches last year because of the pandemic severely reduced the number of experienced lifeguard applicants this year. As a result, the park district has only hired about 60 -- rather than the usual 100 or more -- lifeguards for the beach and Barefoot Bay Aquatic Center. That's not enough to keep both open at a full schedule.
Lifeguards have been shifted to allow Barefoot Bay to be open daily, although capacity is limited to 60%, or about 900 bathers, for a safe ratio of swimmers to lifeguards on duty.
To fill the open jobs, the district started a recruiting campaign and is offering incentives that includes signing, retention and referral bonuses, free fitness center access and paid training.
"We were all ready to go but it became a challenge," said Executive Director Ron Salski. "We want to do our best to keep the amenities at Barefoot Bay and the beach open (but) it depends on who applies."
The situation will be reassessed after July 4, he said. Actions such as closing specific areas, reducing hours and/or remaining at reduced capacity are possibilities, depending on what happens.
"Our goal is to be open with all our amenities," he said.
Lifeguards typically are of high school and college age.
"Young adults we would typically employ are finding jobs that pay more," said Jeff Fougerousse, executive director of the Vernon Hills Park District.
Mundelein appears to have been hit more severely, but there also have been issues elsewhere.
About a month ago the Des Plaines Park District was short about 40 lifeguards to staff two community pools, a water park and indoor pool.
"In a perfect situation we would have more guards, but were able to get about 20 out of the 40 guards," said Donald Miletic, executive director. "We have about 90 lifeguards at this time and we always try to get more than we need." Facilities are fully operational, he added.
The Dundee Township Park District also struggled finding enough qualified guards early in the swim season.
"We just hired and trained an additional 25 guards. These guards have allowed us to open fully with no hour restrictions," said Aquatic & Athletic Manager Mike Eschenbach. "We did, however, have to have abbreviated hours for the first week we were open due to being short."
Diane DeLorenzo, aquatics manager at the Gurnee Park District, staffing has been an issue the past few years.
"We are fully staffed now but there was a challenge at the beginning of the season," she said. "A lot of our staff are siblings of other staff members."
The Park District of Highland Park operates four beaches on Lake Michigan, including one swimming beach.
Elizabeth Gogola, director of communications and marketing, said the district is fully staffed and open daily.
"It is important to note that we had preplanned the impacts to minimum wage increases and just how competitive it is to hire lifeguards," she said.
"We budgeted and start at $13.50 per hour, plus we provide certification," she added. "In polling neighboring districts, we are the highest paying district for starting rate for lifeguards."