As Chicago Park District delays opening of swimming pools, alderman fears they may not open at all this summer

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Park District has delayed the opening of its public pools until July 5, saying they’re still struggling to hire enough lifeguards, but some city leaders aren’t buying it.

In Pilsen, the gates to Dvorak Park’s pool are closed, and the lifeguard chairs sit empty, with no one on duty, as Jose Rodriguez was hoping to take his nephew, Erik, to his neighborhood pool.

“Yeah, he likes swimming,” Rodriguez said. “It would’ve been nice, but only the Park District knows. We’re not the bosses.”

The Park District says has said the national lifeguard shortage is pushing pool openings back until at least after July 4th, and from Pilsen to Palmer Park, the sprinklers are on, but the fountain is full of debris, as the sun beats down on an empty pool.

“Where do the kids have to go for the summer?” said father Victor Tatum, who worries where young adults will go and what they’ll do without a place like this to hang out.

“If they don’t have anything to do, I mean they’re going to find something to do. It may not be the best thing to do, but they will find something to do,” he said.

So far, efforts to boost the number of lifeguards with perks have failed to prevent delays.

Lifeguards are paid $15.88 an hour, just slightly more than minimum wage, and less than 24 hours before announcing the opening of pools had been delayed until July 5, Park District officials increased a signing bonus to $600.

The Chicago Park District manages 49 outdoor pools and 28 indoor pools. All the pools were supposed to be open by June 24, but after that was delayed to July 5, some city leaders worry the pools won’t open at all this summer.

“The entire city? All of the pools in the inventory? It’s not going to happen,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

Beale said alderpersons across the city were shocked about the delay. He said 1,600 lifeguards positions need to be filled. On top of that, he said it will take weeks to get chemicals balanced in the pools. So that’s looking at August at the earliest for pools to open.

“We’ve already told the kids don’t come downtown, because we have a curfew on you, so go back to your community. So what are you coming back to? An empty pool?” he said.

Beale said it comes down to poor planning.

“We know June comes around every single year. We know these pools need to be open every single year. We need to hire people every single year. So somebody dropped the ball,” he said.

In a statement, the Chicago Park District said they need time to recruit and implement a strategy that will bring resources to as many communities as possible, and to test and onboard new hires.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long added to this report.