Supplement Feature - February 2009
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At the Ready

Staffing Aquatic Facilities

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Edina Park and Recreation Department

What they have: Located in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, the Edina Aquatic Center is an outdoor facility, open seasonally. It includes three different water-play areas, as well as a dry play area and concession stand.

What they offer: Programming includes masters swimming, two swim teams, learn-to-swim classes and open swim.

Staff size: "We hired 70 part-time seasonal cast members last summer," said Ed MacHolda, park and recreation assistant director for the city of Edina. "Roughly 40 of those were lifeguards."

Required training: About 12 years ago the facility switched from American Red Cross training to Jeff Ellis & Associates training. This certification requires annual renewal, "so we have a couple of lifeguard instructors on staff that we send through that training, and they then train and certify all our lifeguards each year," said MacHolda.

In addition, lifeguards have weekly in-service training, and there are three audits by Jeff Ellis & Associates each summer.

How they make it work: This aquatic center maintains its attractiveness by reinventing itself. There's been a municipal pool at this location since 1958, but no one would mistake the waterpark-like atmosphere present today for a plain old rectangular pool. Between 120,000 and 140,000 guests visit each summer, many from outside the Edina area.

Lifeguards at the aquatic center are kept on their toes as they supervise three different water areas. Plus, there are often multiple activities—masters swim, swim lessons and families in the wading pool, for instance—going on at once.

MacHolda contends this is another part of what draws staff to his facility. "If you're a boring pool or facility, it's obvious," he said. "Young people today have so much on the ball, they're multitasking…they're looking for things that are exciting. They want to be part of a team and be challenged."

He added, "We're clearly not a 1960s bathtub. We're a happening aquatic center with themed rides, including a cable ride that's unique in Minneapolis and maybe across the country."

All this helps when potential staff is "weighing options between us and Caribou Coffee," he said. "Lifeguarding is not as glamorous as it once was. There are lots more hoops to jump through for certification."

MacHolda also produces a lifeguarding brochure and makes sure it finds its way to "key spots" like local high schools and colleges.

"The other part is, once we have good people they recruit their friends, siblings, and it keeps going. It snowballs in your favor," he added.

There are also a variety of positions at the aquatic center that serve as gateways for those who will eventually become guards—admissions, concessions, or one of two costumed characters loose on the deck. Guards need to be 16, but MacHolda said that he rarely hires guards younger than seniors in high school. And, after they've worked as a guard for a few summers, he encourages them to move into an assistant manager role, once again maintaining the challenge.