Mecklenburg County short hundreds of lifeguards ahead of start to summer

CHARLOTTE — There’s a desperate need for lifeguards just days away from the unofficial start to summer.

Channel 9 first reported Monday that the shortage means Mecklenburg County can only open one public pool this weekend, leaving families with few options to cool off.

>> Click here to learn more about the opportunity to work as a lifeguard the YMCA

On Tuesday, Channel 9′s Gina Esposito learned the YMCA of Greater Charlotte is also having to adjust plans because it is short hundreds of lifeguards.

The YMCA’s Director of Aquatics Ame Guy said they still need to hire 200 lifeguards, which is about half their staff.

They are offering free training and even raised the pay to $10 an hour.

Guy said they are short because they lost employees during COVID-19 and fell behind on training because of COVID restrictions.

“In the fall and winter, we were struggling to get people indoors to do that training and then struggling in the pool to do the hands on training while maintaining social distancing,” Guy said. “And maybe parents were comfortable with their teens coming out and doing that.”

(WATCH: Lifeguard saves boy’s life first day on the job)

Since the YMCA is short on lifeguards, indoor and outdoor pools can’t open at the same time. Even though COVID restrictions have been lifted, it is still a challenge to meet the one guard to 25 people ratio.

“We are still tracking capacity,” Guy said. “Even with capacities lifted, you will still see us maintain the ratio for lifeguards.”

Guy said all outdoor pools will open this weekend. Most pools will open seven days a week on June 1, except for the pool at Keith Family YMCA.

The YMCA said this comes as swim lessons are in high demand. They are already booked for June and spots are filling up fast for the rest of the summer.

71% of the world is water — children are 100% curious. Parents and caregivers: make sure you are reinforcing water...

Posted by YMCA of Greater Charlotte on Monday, May 24, 2021

The shortage is limiting access to free swim lessons. The YMCA said swim lessons are crucial to prevent child drownings, especially for families in underserved communities.

In recent years, they have traveled to apartment complexes for its Safety Around Water program.

This year, those classes will be held at branch locations and families can sign up.

Lifeguard shortage affecting Park & Rec’s summer pool and beach openings

If you’re planning a getaway to the pool to beat the heat this summer, you may have to make other plans. That’s because Mecklenburg County can’t find enough lifeguards to keep public pools safe.

It’s starting to get hot, school’s almost out and summer is near. But Mecklenburg County is struggling to recruit and retain lifeguards.

It has forced the county to close the Cordelia public pool in NoDa -- a popular spot for people to cool off.

Swimmers also won’t have access to Mecklenburg County’s only public beach this summer. Channel 9 learned that the county has decided not to open Ramsey Creek Beach on Lake Norman for the summer months due to the lifeguard shortage.

Channel 9 also learned that Double Oaks Family Aquatic Center on Statesville Avenue is the only public pool that will be open over Memorial Day weekend -- from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. -- and the county will only be allowing hour and a half increments to people on a first come, first served basis, with 30-minute cleanings between seesions.

The county has raised the minimum lifeguard wage from $13/hour to $15/hour with a $500 signing bonus in hopes of getting more people to apply.

According to county officials, “A national shortage of lifeguards, which has been building for several years, coupled with the very tight employment landscape and compensation challenges, is limiting Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s ability to open its two outdoor seasonal pools, Double Oaks and Cordelia, as well as causing the temporary closure of Ramsey Creek Beach.”

There were currently 247 lifeguard positions within Park and Recreation with only 86 filled as of May 25.

Huntersville Councilwoman Stacy Phillips said she believes the north end of the county is being neglected.

“I found it frustrating when I started looking at the job listing,” Phillips said. “The county really wasn’t doing their best to promote, and I don’t know why they didn’t advertise more -- even reach out to the towns.”

The pandemic forced some organizations to cancel lifeguard courses, which has also impacted how many are certified.

Some elected officials took to social media to voice their displeasure with the news that the county could not open swimming locations due to a lack of lifeguards. Rep. John Bradford wrote, “This is totally unacceptable,” while Huntersville Commissioner Stacy Phillips said, “Hiring ain’t that hard in a niche market.”

Current pool operating hours starting on Saturday, May 29:

Double Oaks Family Aquatic Center

2014 Statesville Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28206

  • Saturday, May 29, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Opening day)
  • Sunday, May 30, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Monday, May 31, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Holiday)
  • Tuesday, Jun 1, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center

Open Memorial Day- (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.) Will maintain regular operations and Holiday Hours on Memorial Day

  • Monday & Wednesday- 5:30 a.m – 9:30 p.m. (Main Tank Closed 1pm-4pm)
  • Tuesday & Thursday- 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
  • Friday- 5:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Saturday- 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Sunday- Closed

Beginning Saturday, June 5 Double Oaks will be open Thursdays & Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Cordelia Pool (2100 N. Davidson Street, Charlotte, NC 28205) will be open Sundays & Tuesdays, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

To maintain social distancing, pool visitors can access Double Oaks and Cordelia pools during the following time slots: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. (There will be 1.5 hours for swimming and 30 minutes for cleaning between entry times.)

Admission/Tickets: $2 per person, tickets can be bought on the same-day as visit and for available time slot. First-come, first-served.

(WATCH: Chlorine shortage could disrupt summertime fun)