Two Santa Fe pools reduce winter hours amid lifeguard shortage

December 3, 2018

Two of the three city-operated indoor pools in Santa Fe have reduced their winter hours for lap swimming, a move officials say is largely because of lifeguard shortages.

The changes have raised concerns among swimmers that the sport will become more inaccessible, especially for those with a 9-to-5 work schedule.

Sue Herrmann, who’s been swimming at city pools for 30 years, said she has never seen the hours so limited. She called the pools the “heart of the city.”

“If people can’t use them, it’s awful — it’s a crime,” Herrmann said.

The shorter hours, effective Saturday, come during the peak of the high school swim season — when most lanes at the city’s largest pool, in the south-side Genoveva Chavez Community Center, are reserved for team practice — and a week before Santa Fe Community College will close its pool for more than a month to complete renovations.

While hours at the Chavez Center will remain unchanged, from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and morning and afternoon hours on weekends, the Fort Marcy Pool will close at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday until spring, and the Salvador Perez Pool will close at 7:30 p.m. most weekdays. Both pools also will have shorter weekend sessions.

City Parks Director John Muñoz says the shift is “absolutely a temporary thing.” He hopes to increase the number of lifeguards on staff before hours expand again in the spring, an effort that will start with boosting incentives, he said.

“We do need to look at how competitive we are,” Muñoz said, adding that the starting pay for a part-time lifeguard at a city pool is $11.40 per hour. Full-time guards are paid $12.07 an hour.

Meanwhile, some private pools in the area pay staff an hourly wage of up to $15.38.

Liz Roybal, the city’s recreation complex manager, said the Chavez Center now has an aquatic team of 18, down from 25. At Fort Marcy and Salvador Perez, the number of aquatic specialists — including lifeguards, instructors, supervisors and pool managers — has dropped to six from 12 at each facility.

Amid what Muñoz called a national trend in lifeguard shortages, he said he plans an “aggressive campaign to hire” and will offer a free lifeguard certification course in mid-December.

“As long as they pass the certifications, then they will be considered as strong candidates,” Muñoz said.

One of the biggest problems with short-staffing, he said, is that when a lifeguard has to miss work, leaving too few guards to safely monitor a pool, the facility must shut down.

Overcrowding also is an issue — especially for swim teams, whose seasons run from early November through the end of February.

Lee Taylor, the coach for the Santa Fe Aquatic Club, said nearly every swim team in town practices at the Chavez Center at some point between 4 and 6:30 p.m. weekdays. This means other swimmers must share just four lanes available to the public during that time.

Each school or club is limited to three lanes, Taylor said, which means some of the bigger schools with up to 30 kids on their teams have to squeeze about 10 swimmers into a single lane.

“This time of year, there’s definitely a strain,” Taylor said.

Muñoz said he understands the concerns of those who use the city’s pools, and he’s working to address them.

“Year after year, we’ve cut back,” he said. “What I want to do is earn the trust of constituents in Santa Fe and take this time to rebuild and regroup.”

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