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City is working to staff swimming pools

December 3, 2018

I’ve learned a lot in my first few months as our city’s new Parks and Recreation Department Director — but one thing that stands out is that Santa Fe loves to swim.

We offer a variety of high-quality options, by far the most affordable around. From outdoor fun at Bicentennial Pool to year-round fitness in the lap pools at Fort Marcy and the Salvador Perez Recreation Center, to three pools at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center that combine the best of family fun and fitness, we support a community where swimming is part of everyday life.

We also face tough challenges that we have not always managed well in the past. Understandably, that’s led to frustration for guests. Due to shortages in lifeguards and construction to upgrade the facilities, we’ve had a lot of recent closures in our pools — some planned, some not.

Our challenges aren’t unique: All over the country, young people are opting for internships or extracurricular activities that boost their résumés rather than working at the community pool. Our pay has been a few dollars an hour lower than other jobs, and our standards are high — getting certifications isn’t necessarily easy. Each fall, we lose lifeguards as they head back to college.

We share our guests’ frustration when we have to close a pool unexpectedly. But we aren’t here to make excuses. We’re doing a number of things to solve this problem.

First, to show everyone that we understand how much you love to swim and how frustrating it is when you can’t, we are opening the Chavez Center pool — usually a separate membership — to anyone with a Fort Marcy or Salvador Perez membership. We want you to swim, and we know that it’s up to us to prove it.

Second, we’re recruiting more lifeguards. If you can swim 300 yards, tread water for two minutes, and retrieve a block from 10 feet deep, you can lifeguard. If you are looking for work, we’re hosting a special December class to get you certified and on the job — fast! — and we’ll even pay for the cost of the certifications.

Just call Abby in our office, at 505-955-4051, or email agsmith@ci.santa-fe.nm.us. The certification class will be Dec. 19-21 and Dec. 26-28. Classes are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, with an hour lunch.

We are also doing something new: recruiting on-call lifeguards who can step in when needed — a great option for Santa Feans who want flexibility or a little extra part-time work. Long-term, we are working hard on the budget to make our compensation competitive enough to fill the gaps.

But recruiting and training new lifeguards takes time. Based on the conversations we’ve had, if you’re a swimmer, you may well be frustrated right now, largely because the schedule as it stands is unpredictable. When we try to keep facilities open for longer hours than we can realistically support, even one lifeguard calling in sick can cause a site to close at a moment’s notice.

So, another step we’re taking is designed to bring stability to the schedule. To reduce unexpected closures, we are shifting to a winter schedule for our Fort Marcy, Chavez Center and Salvador Perez pools. The new schedule has fewer days and shorter hours, and we know that’s a disappointment — but it’s realistic: It’s a promise we can keep while we work on long-term solutions. If we can’t be open all the hours you want right now, you should at least know when you can count on us to be open.

Starting Dec. 1, the winter schedule will be:

Fort Marcy pool: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Salvador Perez pool: 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Chavez Center pool: 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends.

We’ve also heard your concerns that after past cutbacks, the lost hours never seem to be restored. That is not our intent. We’re acting to deliver stability and predictability in the short-term. But we are also building capacity that will support a high level of family-friendly, user-friendly hours and services in the long term, in a way that is actually sustainable for years to come.

The closures we’ve faced have been difficult for both our guests and our staff, and we apologize for the frustration. The Parks and Recreation workers at the city are deeply passionate about providing these services, and we are working to resolve this issue for good.

Our goal is nothing short of the most family-friendly, user-friendly recreation experience in the country, and we won’t stop working until we get there.

John Muñoz is director of parks and recreation for the city of Santa Fe.

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