Despite increasing lifeguard pay, Concord will only open four pools Sunday

  • Kids swim at Kimball pool Thursday afternoon, June 15, 2017 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the refurbished pool on North State Street. Four city pools will open for the season Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The pool at Rolfe Park in Penacook is one of four in the city opening for the 2022 summer season.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/16/2022 5:04:18 PM

Four out of Concord’s seven pools will open for the season on Sunday – one fewer than last summer – despite pay increases for lifeguards meant to overcome last year’s staffing shortage. 

Last year, pools at Garrison and White Park remained closed, while the pool at Kimball Park was able to open midway through the summer. In an effort to open all seven pools, Concord gave lifeguards a boost in pay this summer from $10.89 to $12, which still falls short of the pay at entry-level jobs at places like Target and Walmart. Concord’s more experienced lifeguards can make up to $16 an hour.  

The pools at Rollins, Keach, Merrill and Rolfe parks will open at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. The four pools will be open on the weekends from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and between Monday and Friday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and then from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Concord’s pools usually remain open until mid-August. 

The city typically aims to hire 40 lifeguards in order to staff all pools seven days a week and account for vacations, legal limits on teenagers’ working hours and coverage for anyone who calls in sick. Parks and Recreation Director David Gill said the while the city did successfully hire 40 lifeguards for the summer, the department now has only 24 trained and certified lifeguards as of Thursday after several left or failed to get certified.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed that we couldn’t hire enough guards to open all seven pools,” Gill said.

The city has lost 16 lifeguards over the last few weeks. While most quit, citing sports, other jobs or personal reasons, five failed to pass the certification class necessary to become a lifeguard. The city pays the $380 fee for a lifeguard certification course, which involves about 30 hours of training and is good for two years.

While Gill said he considered opening more pools for fewer days of the week, the logistics of scheduling lifeguards for shifts at pools around the city proved too difficult.

“We looked at the four pools that have the highest attendance pre-COVID, and as of a couple of days ago we were ready to open all seven,” Gill said. “Looking forward we are going to be looking at some sort of a hybrid schedule.”

Gill pointed to low unemployment rates and said most businesses are desperate to hire workers.

“I think COVID honestly has affected everybody’s expectations regarding work and work-life balance and quality of life,” Gill said, something he says is good for people’s ability to enjoy parks and recreation in general. “It was hard to get employees before COVID – it’s harder now.”

The pandemic has also disrupted the city’s lifeguard hiring pipeline. Usually, Gill can plan to rehire 15 to 20 returning lifeguards in addition to 10 to 15 new lifeguards. However, in 2020, none of the city’s pools opened and the Red Cross did not offer lifeguard certification classes. Most of the lifeguards who worked last summer were brand new.

Ward 5 City Councilor Stacey Brown, who has brought up raising lifeguard pay in numerous city council meetings, said she was disappointed that only four pools would open.

“It makes me mad: we knew this was going to happen,” Brown said. “I feel like early on, I would have liked to see higher rates – if we had offered, say, $16” an hour.

Brown said she wants to see the lifeguard positions, which she views as high-responsibility jobs, marketed to adults in the community rather than just high school and college students.

Gill said his staff tried to recruit students at Concord and Merrimack Valley high schools, in some cases using treats to entice students to approach a table to learn more about open roles.

“I think we could be more creative than offering a Snickers bar at the high school,” Brown said. “What with gas prices the way they are, the economy the way that it is, anything we can do to keep people cool inexpensively we should be doing.”

Other New Hampshire municipalities and organizations have increased wages in order to hire enough people to staff aquatic options for summer recreation.

The Granite YMCA pays lifeguards between $11 and $14 an hour and also covers lifeguard certification, said Vice President of Communications and Marketing Jamie Demetry.

Laconia is offering $15 an hour and free certification for lifeguards at resident-only Bond Beach on Lake Opechee. Assistant Director of Parks and Facilities Matt Mansur said that the department was able to hire just three lifeguards despite higher wages.

“They’re not coming,” Mansur said.

Weirs Beach will not have lifeguards this summer, but Mansur said the beach will be staffed by caretakers, who enforce rules, pick up trash and help with parking – basically everything but the water-safety part of the job.

Meanwhile in Concord, Gill wants residents – and in particular, any certified lifeguards – to know that the city is still hiring, either for full 40-hour weeks or just to be on call when needed.

“I’m a glass-half-full type of guy,” Gill said. “I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to hire additional lifeguards. I just don’t know how many that will be.”

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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