WESTLOCK - Starting Nov. 14, the Westlock Aquatic Centre will be closed on Sundays due to a lack of lifeguards.
Town of Westlock community services director Gerry Murphy said he’s hopeful the Sunday closures are only temporary, but noted that pools in rural communities across the province are desperate for lifeguards. Murphy said they did examine cutting hours at the facility during the week to give staff a break, but said usage numbers on Sundays have declined as winter sports like hockey and ringette have ramped up — two Sundays ago Murphy said only four people used the pool.
“We have maxed out our local lifeguard talent and we’ve been drawing from the city and from around the area for some time now. So, when we looked at the schedule and at the resources we needed to allocate to the schedule … we are mandated to have a certain number of guards on the deck whenever the pool is open and depending on what’s going on in the pool that number can be even higher,” Murphy explained.
“We’re currently open for five hours on Sunday, so if we would have kept it status quo we would have needed to find five hours throughout the week. We thought the impact on users would have been greater by taking the hours away during the week, so the best way to utilize the resources we currently have is to claw back on Sundays because as far as scheduling goes it’s better for the staff.”
To get more lifeguards on staff Murphy said they’ll be reaching out to young swim club members to encourage them to get certified, noting that it’s only been over the past 18 months that the pool has been open on Sundays.
“We want to work with the schools on a program that gets swim club members up through the system and gets them the accreditation they need to become junior lifeguards. And we’re also advertising outside of the town to try and get some interest,” he said.
“We’ll continue to try and staff up as best as we can but it’s a very specialized field.”
And while the facility will be closed Sunday, Murphy said gym users will soon be able to access that portion of the aquatic centre anytime they want as they’ve almost got the 24-hour-access door complete.
“Unfortunately the entire facility has to be closed entirely on Sunday due to the work-alone policies we have. But we’re almost there on being able to open 24-hour-access to the gym and that will be coming very soon,” he concluded.