Vocal crowd expresses support for reopening Lords Park pool in Elgin
A vocal crowd of roughly 150 people packed an Elgin school Wednesday night to express support for reopening Lords Park pool.
The east-side pool has been closed since 2020, first due to the COVID pandemic and then because of a combination of cost and an inability to staff enough lifeguards, according to Elgin Parks and Recreation Director Maria Cumpata.
The pool will remain closed in 2023 while the city's two other aquatic facilities, Wing Park Pool and Adventure Island at the Centre of Elgin, reopened after the pandemic.
"We're looking for help from the community to figure out how we can accommodate all and be able to operate all three facilities," Cumpata told the crowd during a community input meeting at Lords Park Elementary School library.
Many people in attendance suggested that it's part of a pattern of residents on the city's east side getting the short end of the stick.
"The east side has been stranded," resident Jeanne Steinway said. "I really feel like we're the adopted kid."
Cumpata said staffing all three aquatic facilities requires 92 lifeguards, 20 managers, and 50 attendants. There are currently 54 lifeguards and 20 of the needed 70 managers and attendants.
City officials said they have different recruiting and outreach methods to attract candidates. But over the years, the job has become very focused on safety and responsibility. That makes it less attractive to teenagers, even with a starting wage of $16.25 per hour, which they said is more than surrounding communities pay.
While the city pays to train and certify lifeguards, the process involves about 30 hours of training, passing specific swimming requirements and a written exam. Lifeguards are required to have ongoing monthly training as well.
"It's a very daunting job," Cumpata said. "It's not the job that -- when I was in high school -- we wanted because we wanted to sit out in the sun all day with our friends. That's not the job anymore."
In addition to the staffing problem, the city projects that if the pool reopened in 2024, it would operate at a $280,000 loss for the three months it's open. Cumpata also said at least $500,000 in repairs are needed to reopen the pool.
She presented a list of options to residents Wednesday as officials work on a new parks and recreation master plan. One of those options included reopening the pool, but possibly with reduced days and hours of operation and/or increased admission fees if there is a staff shortage.
Resident Adriana Bierman said she welcomed the idea of raising admission prices for the pools if it meant Lords Park Pool would be open. She said that since the pool closed, she's been taking her kids and grandkids to pools in other communities.
"I'm taking my money elsewhere," she said. "I'm going to Dolphin Cove (in Carpentersville), I'm going to Bartlett ... I want to keep money in Elgin."
Other possibilities presented include turning Lords Park pool into a splash pad, soccer fields, pickleball courts, an ice skating arena or a multiuse facility that could combine some of those options.
The Lords Park Family Aquatic Center was built in 1964 and got a major renovation in 2001. The 14,000-square-foot facility features a pool with a double flume slide, a competition pool, three water play features, a children's play area, a sand volleyball court, a bathhouse and a concessions building.
Many people in the room expressed concerns that closing the pool permanently was a foregone conclusion. Cumpata and Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Barb Kaselica more than once emphasized that it wasn't the case.
"There's residents in the community that feel that staff has made a decision on how to move forward, and we haven't," Kaselica said. "We honestly need to hear from you guys."
To get that feedback, the city launched a resident survey Wednesday night. It will be mailed to east-side residents, but any Elgin resident can fill it out online.
Cumpata said the information gleaned from the meeting and the survey data would go to the city council as part of a master plan update likely in June.
"We are not in the profession to take away amenities," she said. That's not what we're all about. But we are in the profession of being realistic and making sure that the city can adequately operate multiple facilities."