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Outdoor pools open, but lifeguard shortage means cuts to kids’ swimming lessons, adult lap swim times

BY KEITH J. KELLY | The good news is that New York City public pools will open on Tues., June 28, the day after public schools close for the summer.

The bad news is that the citywide lifeguard shortage is forcing the city to cut kids’ swimming lessons and abandon early-morning, night owl and senior lap swim programs for the second year in a row at the city’s 53 pools.

“Like the entire country, it’s been a challenge recruiting enough qualified people who can pass the New York City lifeguard requirements, and pandemic impacts on recruitment continue,” said Parks Department spokesperson Crystal Howard.

“We know that New Yorkers rely on our city pools as their summer vacation destinations, and we are proud that we offer free access across the city to help New Yorkers safely stay cool on hot summer days,” Howard said. “Safety is our top priority.”

Currently, there are only about 600 qualified lifeguards on the payroll, she said, which is less than half the 1,400 to 1,500 that the city needs to fully staff.

Last year, the city also experienced a large shortage when it had only 1,013 lifefguards and was also forced to curtail swimming lessons and other programs.

Governor Kathy Hochul recently upped the starting pay for lifeguards at state-owned beaches, such as Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach, by more than 30 percent in response to the shortage. That pay hike does not apply to the city lifeguards, who work for the New York City Parks Department and are currently without a contract. The starting salary for lifeguards under the expired contract is $16.10 per hour.

One city pool in the Downtown area — Tony Dapolito Pool, at Clarkson Street and Seventh Avenue South — remains closed while the city undertakes a $16.9 million reconstruction of the recreation center. The work is not expected to be completed until September 2024.

An empty lifeguard chair in the Coney Island subway station is more symbolic than the city intended for it to be. (Photo by Keith J. Kelly)

The outdoor pool at the Asser Levy Center, at the corner of E. 23rd Street and the F.D.R. Drive service road, will open as scheduled on June 28, but the 1-foot-deep kiddie wading pool is closed indefinitely after structural damage was discovered in the off-season.

All the city pools open at 11 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., with a one-hour closure between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. for cleaning. Only white shirts are permitted to be worn poolside since the city seeks to curb any gang colors from surfacing at city pools.

Escaping to the 11 miles of city-owned ocean beaches may be a little more complicated and dangerous since long stretches of Rockaway Beach are closed to swimming. The ongoing Atlantic Coast Resiliency Project underway by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is rebuilding many of the rock jetties that protect the sandy beaches from the Atlantic Ocean.

While there have been no drownings at the Rockaway beaches while lifeguards were on duty at protected beaches in recent years, tragedy did strike on a particularly hot and dangerous Friday. On June 17, in two separate incidents, a 16-year-old girl was pulled from Beach 108th St. and a male believed to be in his late teens was pulled from the waters off Beach 98th St. Both were transported to St. John Episcopal Hospital where they were pronounced dead. Three others were pulled from the water by lifeguards after getting caught in the dangerous riptides in the Atlantic off Rockaway on the same day and survived.

Both of the victims who downed were pulled from the water at beaches that were closed to swimming.

“We are heartbroken by these unfortunate deaths,” Parks Department spokesperson Howard said at the time. “This is a painful reminder that New Yorkers should never enter the water in closed sections of our shoreline, where lifeguards are not present. We implore New Yorkers to only swim in open sections and when lifeguards are on duty.”

The ocean beaches opened May 28 and stay open until Sept. 11, with lifeguards on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In addition to Asser Levy, pools in Downtown Manhattan that are open include Dry Dock Pool, at E. 10th between Avenues C and D; Hamilton Fish Pool, at Pitt and Houston Streets; Tompkins Square Pool, at Avenue A between E. Seventh and E. 10th Streets; and Vesuvio Pool, at Thompson St. between Spring and Prince Streets.

Free sunscreen lotion is available in dispensers at all city pools and beaches.

One Comment

  1. Georgette Fleischer Georgette Fleischer June 30, 2022

    This terrible waste of a precious public resource must be addressed by the Department of Parks and Recreation and our elected representatives.
    I was at Hamilton Fish Pool on Tuesday, the first day. There was one lifeguard on duty, and it was mayhem, with teens horsing around throughout, so that I was able to get in, at best, 10-12 minutes of actual swimming.
    I returned today, 8 minutes past opening with my four-year-old daughter, having been told on Tuesday that arriving at opening time would find the pool calmer.
    There were two lifeguards on duty. The pool was allowing only 70 patrons in at a time, and there may have been as many waiting in line to get in; the wait was estimated to be 1-1/2 hours.
    One-third (1/3) of the pool was open, the rest cordoned off.
    Worse, the children’s pool is not open at all, and there are no plans to open it.
    I learned from a staff member that private pools are paying $25-$30 an hour for lifeguards, but NYS and NYC pay only $17-$18. The latter is starting pay at Whole Foods. How would that pay scale attract a lifeguard, who requires special training, and who has a huge responsibility for public safety, so has to sit, hypervigilant at all times, throughout the shift?
    It’s tragic that these two beautiful pools at Hamilton Fish (2/3 of the adult pool, all of the children’s pool) lie empty, while would-be beneficiaries like my daughter and myself are barred. “They’re wasting the children’s pool,” my daughter stated as we headed back home in our dry bathing suits.
    Can Parks and our electeds please remedy this terrible waste before the summer dwindles another ten days?

    Georgette Fleischer
    President, Friends of Petrosino Square

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