The Prairie Village City Council has approved an adjusted schedule for the city’s pool this summer and also backed a proposal to begin recruiting younger teens to fill lifeguard positions.
Both moves are a response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other cities in northeast Johnson County, COVID-19 led Prairie Village to shut its pool down for the 2020 season. Now, the pandemic has contributed to a lifeguard shortage this year.
As a response, the city council approved shortening daily pool hours this summer by one hour. The pool will now open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
The hours change now allows for the hiring of lifeguards who are 15 years old. Currently, Kansas law prohibits 15-year-olds from working more than 8 hours on a non-school day.
Councilmember Tucker Poling, the parks and recreation committee chair, said the change would allow city staff to overcome its staffing challenge and keep the pool open this summer.
“I am definitely supportive of this,” Poling said. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate that this is a significant change, but the parks committee is wanting to focus on the goal, which is to have a season — which won’t be like other seasons, necessarily, but we want to have a season.”
Concerns about age change
Meghan Buum, assistant city administrator, said neighboring Johnson County cities have had success in hiring 15-year-old lifeguards.
Despite that, some councilmembers, including Piper Reimer and Chad Herring, expressed concerns with the age change.
Reimer said she’s concerned with asking the teenagers to work during COVID-19 and potentially exposing themselves to the virus.
Herring said he appreciates the challenge city staff is trying to navigate, including not being able to adjust shift structures without additional lifeguard staff. Still, he said his main concern was asking 15-year-olds to work 8-hour shifts and to focus for that long.
“I have concerns with asking 15-year-olds to work the amount of hours that appear to be proposed by this proposal,” Herring said. “I understand other area pools are doing this. I think that’s a long day for a 15-year old to work an important lifeguarding duty.”
Before this year, 15-year-olds had been able to work non-lifeguard jobs at the pool, including at the concession stand because shifts for those positions didn’t last 8 hours.
Hoping for pool season
Buum said lifeguards are on a rotating schedule during their shifts and are responsible for being on the lifeguard stand for only two-and-a-half hours at a time. They take 30-minute breaks in between, as well.
Councilmember Jori Nelson shared concerns about how safe it would be to open the pool with COVID-19 still at play and the uncertainty of what the status of the pandemic will be come summer.
Buum said she will bring forward more information about COVID-19 safety in relation to opening the pool at the April 5 city council meeting.
Still, city staff is working under the assumption that the pool will open for the 2021 season, Mayor Eric Mikkelson said.
If a councilmember wanted to bring forward a motion to not open the pool — or to close the pool once it had opened — they could do so, he said.
The city council approved the pool hour changes in an 8-3 vote, with Councilmembers Herring, Nelson and Daniel Runion voting in opposition. Councilmember Terrence Gallagher was absent.