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April 24, 2014

SOS for Ja-Lu Pool

GREENVILLE — Lifeguards take on the responsibility for watching over and, if needed, rescuing swimmers.

City of Greenville officials are warning that hiring more lifeguards, and soon, may be the only way to save the Ja-Lu Municipal Swimming Pool’s summer.

Acting Parks and Recreation Director Kimber Patterson told the Greenville City Council Tuesday that even with the start of the pool’s season a month away she only has been able to hire a fraction of the staff she needs for the facility.

“Right now we are looking at a shortage of lifeguards,” Patterson said, adding that she typically hires around 18 to 22 lifeguards to work at Ja-Lu. As of Tuesday, she had received five applications for lifeguards, with only three of those from individuals who are already certified. Patterson said she will be forced to make a difficult decision by May 9.

“We will have to either shorten the hours we operate the pool or not open the pool at all,” she said.

Patterson said she normally has her entire staff in place by now. The Ja-Lu pool is scheduled to open for a free swim on Memorial Day, May 26 and open for the summer the following weekend.

But Patterson has also been unable to fill the positions of pool supervisor and assistant supervisor. Nine people typically work a shift; including seven lifeguards, a cashier and a supervisor.

Lifeguards must be at least 16 to work at Ja-Lu.

“Usually the average age is high schoolers or college kids, but we’ll take them at any age,” Patterson said, adding the YMCA in Greenville is having similar problems and is conducting a lifeguarding class this weekend.

“Shutting down the pool is really not an option,” said Council member Dan Perkins.

But there are few alternatives.

Patterson said lifeguards make $7.25 an hour.

“Most of the time people can find a job at a restaurant that pays better than that with tips,” she explained. “They have the responsibility for life and death.”

The Ja-Lu Swimming Pool operates at a deficit each year. Patterson said of the $68,000 annual budget, $56,000 is spent on personnel. The pool brings in about $39,000 in revenue each summer.

Patterson said the situation is expected to be even more desperate a year from now.

“If and when Splash Kingdom comes next summer, they are hiring 85 lifeguards,” she said.

In order to become certified, lifeguards also need to  complete CPR and first aid training, skills which Patterson said can be used in a variety of jobs.

“It is a great opportunity,” she said.

Council member Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy asked Patterson whether, in her personal opinion, it might be time to explore closing the pool for good.

Patterson admitted that operating the facility is not going to get any easier when Splash Kingdom opens.

“We are really going to have a hard time finding staff,” Patterson said.

That, and in addition to already losing money, the pool will be needing some significant maintenance in the coming years.

“We do need to look at our options,” Patterson said, noting the city may want to consider replacing the pool with something similar to the splash pad which is part of Harry Myers Park in Rockwall.

“I think we could do something really cool with that area,” she said.

However, Perkins said the fact that Ja-Lu loses money should not be the only criteria on which to base a decision regarding the pool’s future.

“It’s a public service,” Perkins said. “We lose a lot of money on a lot of things we do as a city, because it serves the public.”

Those interested in applying for a position with the pool can contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 903-457-2994 or learn more through the city’s web site at

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