The Chicago Park District is upping the ante in its bid to recruit lifeguards to staff the city’s pools and beaches, announcing a $600 signing and retention bonus to lure applicants. That’s an increase of $100 from a previous offer.
Lakefront beaches opened Memorial Day weekend, with lifeguards on duty 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the severe shortage of staff is threatening the opening of the district’s 49 outdoor pools. During a press conference earlier in the week, General Superintendent Rosa Escareño pegged June 24 as the start date of the “full season” of beaches and pools.
The district has also temporarily relaxed the residency requirement for lifeguard applicants, and is extending $500 bonuses to park district employees who refer qualified lifeguard candidates.
“Chicago families rely on our park programs during the summer, so we are not giving up. We need lifeguards NOW and are offering great incentives to anyone who is a strong swimmer and interested in keeping the public safe,” Escareño said in a statement.
The shortage of lifeguards is a nationwide issue, but has been exacerbated in Chicago by a scandal that rocked the Park District’s aquatics program. An investigation into a “frat boy culture” of harrassment and assault among lifeguards ultimately led to the resignation Mike Kelly, the district’s longtime general superintendent.
Simultaneously, the coronavirus pandemic restricted lifeguard training sessions, shutting off the typical pipeline of seasonal staff.
The district has been able to activate 176 water spray features at parks and is working to bring more online, officials said.
The district’s 28 indoor pools will be closed Sunday through June 23 for aquatics staff training, according to the district.