Rock Hill needs at least 40 lifeguards to open all city pools, but only has 3

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The worker shortage has kept all but one public pool in Rock Hill closed halfway through the summer season.

The Emmett Scott Center opened two days ago, but only part-time. The pool is open only because it requires fewer lifeguards.

Each year, the city of Rock Hill needs between 40 and 50 lifeguards to operate its four pools. The city has three lifeguards this summer.

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Garnet McKeown is Rock Hill’s recreation supervisor, and she said she’s never seen a season like this one.

“The pools should be open,” McKeown said. “The kids should be in here splashing and swimming and playing. I hate it.”

More than 10,000 people use the four city pools during an average summer. But the last time there was an “average summer” was in 2019.

Rock Hill’s other public pools, Oakwood Acres and Northside, are completely drained of water. Boyd Hill, which is a much smaller pool, is also closed. A sign was posted on the entrance gate that said lifeguards are needed.

All the pools should have opened around Memorial Day, officials said.

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Cade Haley, 16, a football player at Fort Mill High School, was one of the three lifeguards on duty at the Emmett Scott Center. He is working there because his friends said it was a good job.

“I had a few friends that did it and told me it was a very fun job, very rewarding,” Haley said Wednesday. “I like being out in the sun. (I) like the water.”

Jess Bolling, 19, was at the pool with Haley and has been a lifeguard with the city for four years. She doesn’t know where everyone went or why it’s so hard to find help this season.

“I’ve tried to point out people to get them to hire, but no one seems to want to lifeguard this year,” she said. “It’s crazy, but they need people to work.”

The private company who hires lifeguards for the city has raised pay and offered signing bonuses, free uniforms and training. However, that effort hasn’t made an impact.

It’s the same struggle so many other businesses are facing.

McKeown said that it’s possible that many applicants who are in the age bracket of high school or college students have taken higher paying jobs elsewhere.

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The pandemic shut everything down last summer, and now with less than half this summer left, the city is hoping to open at least one more pool while it continues to search for lifeguards.

Swimming lessons are another loss in the community. The city has provided free swimming lessons for years, though they have not been offered in two years.

The city encourages anyone who wants to be a lifeguard to apply this summer.

(Watch past coverage below: Rock Hill seeing shortage in lifeguards as summer heats up)