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Area pools face lifeguard shortages

Charleston Parks and Recreation officials are busy getting five city pools ready for business, but the department needs something that maintenance crews can't deliver - lifeguards.

Only about 10 people have applied for lifeguard positions at city pools, said John Charnock, parks and recreation director. The department needs about 40 to staff the pools.

This has become a perennial problem in recent years.  

"Back in the day, it seemed like everyone wanted to be a lifeguard," Charnock said. "But it doesn't seem like a popular thing nowadays."

Charnock encouraged anyone who is interested to fill out the application available on the city's website. Applications also can be picked up at the human resources office on the third floor of City Hall on Virginia Street downtown.  

The applications should be turned in at the human resources office, Charnock said.

The number of lifeguards hired will determine whether all five pools can be opened this summer, he said.

The city runs pools at Cato Park as well as the King Community Center downtown, the Kanawha City Community Center, the North Charleston Community Center and Vandalia Park.

The pool at Cato Park on Charleston's West Side is the biggest and has the most use, Charnock said. The small Vandalia pool on a hillside close to the city's border with South Charleston border experiences the least use.

Vandalia likely would be the one to remain closed if his department cannot hire enough lifeguards to staff all five.

"Vandalia does need fewer lifeguards than the other pools," he said. "But we try to serve the most people that we can."

The North Charleston pool likely will be the first to open, Charnock said. It was closed all last summer for maintenance. Flooring had deteriorated to the point that the bathrooms and showers had to be closed.

However, repairs are complete, and the pool should open Memorial Day weekend.

"The hope is to open that pool on that weekend and then bring the rest of them online as we move forward," he said.

Charnock did not have numbers for how many people used individual city pools last year. Citywide, 30,000 to 40,000 swimmers used the pools.

Admission will be free again this year.

Crews are working to clean all of the pools. They should be filled with water this week or next, Charnock said.  

Kanawha County and smaller towns in the area aren't having the same problems attracting lifeguards.

The pool at Coonskin Park should be fully staffed by its opening date on Memorial Day weekend, said Jeff Hutchinson, Kanawha County Parks director.

"We've tried to hire the lifeguards that we used last year," Hutchinson said. "We can normally get most of them to come back."

The YMCA is two or three lifeguards from being fully staffed for the season at Pioneer Park in East Bank, said Erin Dydland, aquatic director. The agency is still accepting applications for lifeguards, she said.

The YMCA has operated the county-owned pool at East Bank for the past five years. It will open on June 1.

Although the YMCA operates the pool, Kanawha County Parks still handles the maintenance, Hutchinson said.  

Anyone wishing to apply for a lifeguard position with the YMCA should call 304-340-3527.

The pool at Shawnee Park in Institute will open on May 25, said Aaron Settle, who oversees aquatics for the City of Dunbar.

"We're fully staffed and ready to go," he said. "Things are looking good so far."       

Contact writer Paul Fallon at or 304-348-4817. Follow him at ;

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