A lifeguard watches over the kiddie pool on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Rehm Pool in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Due to a shortage of lifeguards, the Park District of Oak Park has adjusted the daily operating hours of the Rehm Park swimming pool, which opens Memorial Day weekend. Swimmers will be able to take a dip in the pool as early as 9 a.m. each day but no later than 7 p.m. in the evening.

In previous years, Rehm Park pool time ended at 8 p.m., but the park district was prompted to close the pool an hour earlier to ensure availability of lifeguards. The park district hires about 100 lifeguards each year to oversee its two swimming pools, but this season the team is short-staffed. There are approximately 20 fewer lifeguards this year, according to Executive Director Jan Arnold.

If any lifeguards are out there looking for a new summer gig, the park district is still accepting applications in the hopes of filling those 20 vacancies.

“We are continuing to do swim tests and hiring for those guards, so we’re hoping to get those numbers up,” said Arnold.

The change in hours only affects the Rehm pool. The number of people who continue to swim past 7 p.m. at Rehm is typically low anyway, according to Arnold. The hours for swimming at the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex have not changed.

Swimming past 7 p.m. at Rehm is not entirely out of the question, however. On days where the temperatures are extremely hot, the park district may allow people to swim until 8 p.m.

“Our plan is if we have a hot weather day and if we can assemble the guards to keep the pool safe, then we’d extend it for another hour that day,” she said.

Oak Park is far from the only park district facing a lifeguard shortage. Some pools are staying closed the entire season because of the lack of available lifeguards. The Fox Valley Park District in Aurora announced late last month that the Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center would not open this year due to the lifeguard shortage, despite increased recruitment efforts.

“I have heard there are some pools not opening until June and some not opening at all due to staff shortages,” Arnold said. “We are glad not to be in that position.” 

Last summer, the Chicago Park District closed a number of its indoor pools because there weren’t enough lifeguards to supervise those pools in addition to the city’s beaches and outdoor swimming pools. That program also suffered from the added scandal of widespread sexual abuse allegations involving lifeguards, which WBEZ exposed last year.

The Chicago Park District recently launched a new marketing campaign to encourage people to become lifeguards while highlighting the diversity of the program. The campaign features diverse members of its lifeguard team, posing next to the words, “I am a Chicago lifeguard,” and a personal quote from the lifeguard about the importance of the job.

The campaign was described in a Chicago Park District News release as drawing “attention to the unique backgrounds and life experiences of our lifeguards while inspiring Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds to see lifeguarding as fulfilling and positive employment.” The Chicago Park District is still recruiting lifeguards for the 2022 season.

Not having enough lifeguards is not unique to the Chicago area alone. Lifeguards are in short supply across the country. Newsweek reported in March that the American Lifeguard Association expects that at least one-third of public pools are at risk of being shut down this summer due to the shortage of lifeguards.

Shaving off one hour each day of pool time is a relatively small concession compared to having no pool access at all.

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