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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lifeguard shortage to reduce public swimming opportunities in Spokane Valley

Swimming opportunities at Spokane Valley pools will likely decrease this summer due to a lifeguard shortage.  (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)

A lifeguard shortage will likely reduce public access to Spokane Valley pools for the second summer in a row.

Spokane Valley only has 30% of the lifeguards it needs to offer a full slate of aquatics programming this summer. Barring an incredibly successful hiring spree, Spokane Valley won’t be able to keep its pools open as much as it has in previous years.

The city swim season kicks off Saturday. Right now, the Valley’s parks and recreation department says each city facility will have limited availability and only one pool will be open each day.

In the summer of 2019, more than 25,000 people swam in the city’s seasonal Terrace View, Valley Mission and Park Road pools.

No one got to swim in 2020, due to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. In 2021, the pools reopened, but lifeguard shortages forced the city to slash its offerings and a mere 5,000 people got in the water.

In a report provided to the City Council, the Spokane Valley parks and recreation department says it could only serve about 10,000 people if staffing doesn’t improve, compared to 35,000 if enough lifeguards were available.

The city needs another 60 lifeguards to offer a full slate of open swim, swim lessons, drowning prevention clinics and more.

Spokane Valley contracts with the YMCA for pool maintenance and lifeguards. With the YMCA’s current lifeguard numbers, the city will be able to offer 18% of its normal swim lesson offerings, 22% of normal open swim availability and 33% of its typical water safety clinics, which cover the basics of drowning prevention. Swim team time and water exercise time won’t be affected.

John Bottelli, Spokane Valley’s parks, recreation and facilities director, said overall aquatics offerings could be down 66% compared to normal.

Not every local government is having a hard time keeping its public pools open. Spokane and Spokane County said they’re well-staffed.

“We’re in a really good position,” said Haiden Harlan, a recreation coordinator with the county.

Still, the YMCA and Spokane Valley aren’t alone in the struggle to hire lifeguards.

Nationwide labor shortages have created staffing problems for many employers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially disruptive for lifeguards.

Anyone wanting to become a lifeguard has to take an American Red Cross course. Those certifications last two years, but they weren’t offered in 2020.

Lifeguards can renew their certifications within 30 days of expiration, but after 30 days, they have to retake the entire course. The 2020 certification freeze made it more difficult for experienced lifeguards to stay certified and return to poolsides in 2021.

Bottelli said Spokane Valley plans to offer open swim at one pool per day.

The Terrace View pool will hold open swim Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the Park Road pool will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For now, the Valley Mission pool won’t offer open swim. 

The city’s water safety clinics, swim lessons, water exercise and lap swim offerings will be at Terrace View on Fridays. The Park Road pool will host those offerings Monday through Thursday. 

Open swim could have reduced capacity, too.

In general, a lifeguard shouldn’t be responsible for more than 25 kids at a time. With lifeguards scarce, the Valley will have to limit the number of people in the pool at once.

The YMCA and Spokane Valley are offering a $250 signing bonus through mid-July to incentivize more people to become lifeguards. To qualify for the bonus a lifeguard must remain on the payroll for at least 30 days. 

The Valley’s pool and swim lesson offerings will likely improve throughout the summer. As more lifeguards fill the ranks, the Valley will prioritize offering more swim lessons before expanding open swim opportunities.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date information on Spokane Valley’s summer pool schedules and lifeguard signing bonus offerings.