Chicago Park District Facing Lifeguard Shortage as Superintendent Hopes to Have 300 Lifeguards to Open ‘Ample’ Number of Pools

Tuesday is the first official day of summer and temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees.

One favorite way to escape the sweltering heat is to head to one of the city’s Chicago Park District pools.

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Normally opened around June 24, the facilities will remain shuttered as a lifeguard shortage has left pools closed until at least July 5.

In an effort to attract more job candidates, the Chicago Park District is offering new lifeguards a $600 signing bonus and has lifted the city residency requirement. Additionally, $500 bonuses are being offered to Park District employees who refer someone who becomes a lifeguard.  

Park District Superintendent Rosa Escareño joined “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the ongoing shortage and acknowledged that some neighborhood pools may not be able to open at all if the Park District can’t fill some 300 lifeguard positions.

Escareño said the Park District hopes to hire around 300 lifeguards, a number that would allow an “ample” amount of the city’s pools to reopen. She declined to specify exactly how many pools the district considers an “ample” amount.

“If we cannot recruit at least 300, the number of pools will probably be a very low number,” she said.

Escareño pointed to competition for young workers as one reason for the lifeguard shortage.

“Not only are we competing with other industries, but we’re competing with private pool operators,” she said.

Escareño also said COVID-19 disruptions lowered the usual 200 to 300 high school students entering the Park District’s summer lifeguard feeder program.

“We are not giving up. We’re hoping for the best,” said Escareño.

When asked if the sexual assault allegations that led to the resignation of several Park District officials over the last year had an impact on the Park District’s ability to recruit teens, Escareño said she is working hard to build a culture of respect.

“We put a lot in place to ensure our agency is leading a culture of respect, a culture where reporting these kinds of issues are taken very seriously … We are a very transparent agency, we are putting a lot of additional supervisory efforts into all of our programs, specifically our aquatics program,” she said.

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