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Roeland Park Aquatic Center reopens for the summer on limited schedule, faces city-wide lifeguard shortage

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Posted at 6:20 PM, May 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-29 19:23:03-04

ROELAND PARK, Kan. — Community pools in the Kansas City area are opening back up for the summer this Memorial Day Weekend, but many are doing so in limited capacities.

One of them is Roeland Park Aquatic Center who reopened its newly renovated facility on Saturday on an abbreviated schedule.

“It’s nice to be able to open this up after the year we had as things start to open back up a little more this year,” Mike Kelly, Mayor of Roeland Park said. “What great timing!”

It is the first year the aquatic center is opening under city maintenance. Back in 2019, the facility’s 20-year partnership with Johnson County came to an end and it was turned over to the city of Roeland Park.

City leaders wanted to create a gathering place that would have something for everyone. Soon the idea to renovate the aquatic center with $1.6 million over the course of a 20 year bond project was voted on.

“The aquatic center, community center, the sports dome up here on Rosewood really kind of reflects the heart of the community,” Kelly said. “You know, Roeland Park is asked to pay about as much as any other community when you look at all taxes together and so we were able to work this in not having to significantly raise taxes on our taxpayers.”

Staff at Roeland Park Aquatic Center are ready to float into summertime, but with only about half of their lifeguard positions filled, they found themselves on the deep end.

Head lifeguard Jadyn Barker is getting back in the swing of things. With shallow staffing at a brand new facility, she has a sinking feeling there may be some growing pains.

“We don’t wanna make our staff upset by being here too often. I think our biggest fear would be people leaving because we’re overworking them,” Barker said.

She said filling the staffing pool is crucial to staying above water, but making sure newbies are trained well is a lane of its own.

“When you’re out here in the sun eight hours a day, multiple days of the week it’s really exhausting," Barker said.

Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, Tony Nichols, said it is not an issue unique to this facility.

The pandemic sank the staff training opportunities needed at area pools last year and many facilities did not hire new employees. That created a domino effect for staff retention this year.

"We didn’t have the staff to return. Your best recruitment tool is the staff you have and without being open last year, you can’t build upon that," Nichols said. "And then this pool specifically, this is the first year the city has run it, it's been run by the county before so we're really starting from zero as far as staffing goes.”

Until there is a flow of staffing, the plan for now is to only open on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.

Nichols is looking to hire more than a dozen lifeguards at his facility and encourages people who are interested to apply on their website.

Applicants must be at least 15 years old and be a strong swimmer, but all training will be provided.