The pool at Rehm Park offered much needed respite from the stifling heat, as temperatures rose up to 93 degrees last weekend.
“With the weather, we were expecting a fair amount of visitors, but there was a lot too that had never been to the pool before,” said Ann Marie Buczek, communications manager of the Park District of Oak Park.
The luxury of plunging into cold water on a sunny day was denied to many last year, as COVID-19 prevented the park district from opening the pools.
The pandemic situation is brighter this summer, allowing for the return of Oak Park’s public pools – and the reopening is going swimmingly, according to the park district.
“Everyone seems happy and glad that the pools are back,” said Kayla Lindgren, the park district aquatics manager.
There will be plenty more opportunities for Oak Parkers to submerge themselves in cold, chlorinated water this summer. The pool at Ridgeland Common opens Friday, June 11, coinciding with the last day of school.
Regular pool hours will begin on that Friday as well. Rehm pool has been operating with partial hours since opening Memorial Day weekend.
The capacity at each pool will still be limited for safety purposes. Under these limits, Ridgeland Common pool can accommodate 250 people and Rehm pool 350 people at one time.
Swimmers expressed some frustration on social media with the enforced mask mandates. Visitors must wear mask when not in the pool.
“We understand the frustration around having to wear a face covering while at the pool,” said Buczek. “Our pool staff and lifeguards can certainly relate to how visitors feel as they too are required to wear face coverings when not in the pool.”
The Park District of Oak Park follows the health guidance released by the state of Illinois, as well as that of the village of Oak Park’s Department of Public Health. The mask requirement came straight from the Illinois Public Health Department (IDPH).
“Operators, employees, and customers should wear face coverings that completely cover their noses and mouths when not engaged in swimming activities,” the IDPH’s swimming facility guidelines read.
Buczek told Wednesday Journal that the park district has reached out to IDPH, as well as the village health department, to determine how safety regulations will be impacted as the state continues to reopen.
Lindgren told Wednesday Journal that Rehm pool would have reached its regular maximum capacity last weekend had it not been for COVID-19.
“Normally we hit our real capacities on 90-degree weekends,” she said. “But we still served a lot of people and a lot of people got to swim.”
With the return of full pool hours comes the return of adult swim hours, during which only people aged 18 and up can use the pool. Once every two weeks, the West Suburban Special Recreation Association will reserve pool time for its clientele.
Swimming lessons start up next week. The park district provides lessons for every age, beginning with students as young as six months. Lessons are available for adults too. The demand for swimming lessons has been higher than in past years, said Lindgren.
“That has been a huge, hot commodity this summer,” she said. “They filled up really fast.”
The park district has had the good fortune to have of its entire pool leadership staff return after the year-long hiatus. Lindgren estimated that 20 to 30 percent of lifeguards have returned as well.
“Most pools don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “Most pools are trying to hire pool managers that they’ve never worked with before.”