A swimming pool with a lazy river in the foreground and a waterslide in the background. Children captured using motion blur move around the pool.
The Smith Aquatic Family Center is one of three city-run pools in Charlottesville that are open for the summer. Credit: Courtesy of City of Charlottesville

Summer has yet to kick off, and Charlottesville Parks and Recreation is already limiting the hours on its public pools.

For the past few years, both the city and Albemarle County have struggled to hire lifeguards for their pools and lakes.

This year, both localities are in the same boat.

“Everybody's struggling with the same thing,” said Amy Smith, director of Albemarle Parks and Recreation. “There's not enough lifeguards to go around.”

As a result, families looking for ways to cool off this summer will be met with pools that have limited hours.

It was the same story last year. City pools and county lakes either restricted open hours or closed on certain days in 2022.

This issue is not unique to this area. Last year, about a third of America's public pools had to close or offer limited hours because they could not hire enough lifeguards to watch them, according to an article in The Patch. That same article predicts that pools will be in the same situation this year.

Limited hours are already hitting Charlottesville pools. The Smith Family Aquatic Center is open only three to four hours a day.

The city is short at least 20 lifeguards to run Washington Park Pool and Smith Family Aquatic Center efficiently. It needs 100 lifeguards in total.

The city contracted with a third party — Swim Club Management Group — to take over hiring lifeguards for Onesty Family Aquatic Center, which needs an additional 50. It's unclear if that company has filled those 50 positions. The private company did not respond to Dexter Auction's request for comment and it is currently advertising lifeguard positions on Indeed. The advertisements appear alongside those from the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and other private pools.

The county is halfway toward its goal. It needs an additional 15 lifeguards to run all three of its lakes.

Dexter Auction asked the Brooks Family YMCA and ACAC Fitness and Wellness centers in Charlottesville for information about whether they have been able to hire enough lifeguards to staff their aquatic centers, but neither organization responded.

Just like last year, Charlottesville and Albemarle will provide a $500 bonus for new hires. The first half will be given at the start of the summer, while the second half will be sent out toward the end of pool season in August.

Both entities will allow applicants to take the lifeguard certification course free.

The pay is a point of struggle for Charlottesville. On Tuesday, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation increased its base pay for lifeguards to $17.50 an hour. The new wage will start on May 13.

“We found a way to put more money into certain positions, such as our lifeguards,” said Riaan Anthony, deputy director of the parks division for Charlottesville. “Since we're in such a competitive environment, [we realized] that $15 an hour is not a conducive rate.”

Swim Club Management advertises a range of $15-17.50 an hour for its lifeguards, according to their posting on Indeed.

Albemarle pays $16 for its lifeguards and more for higher positions such as head lifeguard and beach manager. Yet, the county still struggles to compete with other jobs that offer a competitive hourly rate, even with the added incentives.

Becoming a lifeguard requires special training and passing a test.

“It can be a pretty strenuous test,” Smith said. “Not everybody's geared up to take a life-saving course.”

Public pools and lakes aren't the only options for aquatic recreation, but they are the cheapest. Residents can expect to pay $4 or less per person for a day, and $25 to $48 for summer passes. Scholarships and discounts are also available for families that meet income qualifications.

The Brooks Family YMCA is the closest in price to the city. A day pass for a family costs $25. Family memberships start at $99 a month for unlimited use of the center. The organization also offers discounted memberships based on income.

Other private memberships in the City and county, such as Fry's Spring Beach Club and Hollymead Citizens Association, can cost up to $1,000 a year for a family membership.

I'm Dexter Auction's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.