Feature Article - January 2010
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Staying Afloat

Operating Aquatics in the Black

By Dawn Klingensmith

Smarter Staffing

When it comes to staffing, most aquatics facilities overdo it, said Rowland of Lutra Aquatics. "One common mistake is to staff all the time for peak use. People don't want to get caught short-staffed," he said. "But if you examine usage patterns, and from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon you hardly have anyone there, you only need one lifeguard. If you have one lifeguard on duty and 100 people unexpectedly descend on the pool, admittedly you'd have to turn people away."

But since that's improbable, at any given time of day, "Staff for likely demand as opposed to peak demand or full capacity," he advised.

Reevaluating work schedules with respect to slow periods and peak periods usually reveals misjudgments in timing and opportunities for adjusting staffing levels and employees' work hours. Software programs are available to help optimize scheduling.

Swarms of unnecessary lifeguards aren't the only problem. At the management level, many aquatics facilities and recreation centers have "too many people with not enough to do," Rowland said.

The Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission operates two waterparks in Michigan, and recognized there were redundancies and inefficiencies because each park had been operating independently under separate management. Bringing the two waterparks under the same management and sharing a maintenance crew—along with cost-cutting initiatives of a broader scope—enabled the commission to reduce full-time staff from 97 in 2006 to about 75 today, said executive officer Dan Stencil.

Rowland said many facilities "are not getting as much out of staff as they could."

Lifeguards do require downtime from pool surveillance. "But that doesn't mean they do absolutely nothing. There's nothing saying they can't be doing maintenance or cleaning duties," he said. They could also teach classes.

Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford, Conn., is known for its pristine cleanliness, yet it does not employ a professional cleaning crew. The lifeguarding staff does all the work.