BARRE — The city’s 70-year-old swimming pool is still empty and while filling it won’t be a problem, finding lifeguards already has Recreation Director Stephanie Quaranta holding her breath.
It hasn’t felt like it lately but summer is coming and when the pool opens on June 24 it isn’t yet clear what the swimming season will look like.
Everything from the pool’s hours of operation and its availability on weekends to whether the deep end will have to be off limits at times hinge on Quaranta’s ability to find and hire certified lifeguards in less than three weeks.
The good news?
Pool Director Jade Law is returning and Quaranta said Wednesday she expects to promote lifeguard Zach Millette to the assistant director’s position.
The bad news?
As it stands now, Law and Millette don’t have a staff to direct.
Quaranta said that will change.
Quaranta said she expects to hire one promising new lifeguard — Emily-Grace Spaulding — and is hoping to lure one of last year’s guards — Grace Paterson — back at least on a limited basis. Both, she said, have the requisite certifications, though Spaulding will have to miss two weeks out of an eight-week season and Paterson will be working three days a week in Essex over the summer.
A third prospect called to inquire about a lifeguard job Wednesday morning, and while he doesn’t have the requisite certification, Quaranta said there is still time address that. But not much.
“It’s getting down to the wire,” she said.
An American Red Cross lifeguard certification course is scheduled later this month at Anderson Pool in Waterbury. The five-day course starts on June 18 — a Tuesday — runs through Saturday, June 22 and will cost Waterbury residents $250 and others $275.
Quaranta is offering to reimburse those who take and pass the course provided they work the whole summer at the pool in Barre. She could use the help.
Quaranta is in the market for six lifeguards — not counting Law and Millette — and is prepared to open the season with a shorthanded staff that will force her to rethink the schedule.
“The goal is to provide as many open hours as possible,” said Quaranta, a veteran city department head who expects she’ll have to pinch hit as a lifeguard more than usual this summer.
Quaranta is a certified lifeguard and has helped man the pool in the past.
In order to safely operate the pool at least two and preferably three of the four lifeguard chairs need to be filled. On busier hot days, Quaranta said, four lifeguards need to be on duty.
That’s why Quaranta is expecting she’ll have to modify the pool’s hours — at least to start the season — and may have to make the deep end off limits on days when the pool is too crowded to safely operate short-staffed.
“I’ll know more in two weeks,” she said.
Though swimming lessons aren’t an issue, general swimming is and Quaranta said her priority will be to open the pool on weekdays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and possibly include an early evening session as has been the case in the past.
That isn’t a given based on where things now stand and weekend hours are even less certain.
Based on past pool usage, Quaranta said opening on Saturday and Sunday was hardest to justify and her strong preference would be to address the weekday need. The pool serves a summer meals site for children and she said maintaining that weekday accommodation is important.
Quaranta has occasionally scrambled to recruit lifeguards in the past, but she said it has been more of a challenge this year. Recent outreach to area high schools — Spaulding, U-32 and Williamstown among them — haven’t produced the hoped-for response and Quaranta said she is hoping once school lets out for the summer her phone wills start ringing.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” she said.
Quaranta’s hunt for lifeguards comes even as a city crew readies to make limited repairs needed to open the pool one final season before work on a long-anticipated upgrade begins.
The project, which was approved by voters more than a year ago, will change the configuration of the pool, replace its subsurface and substandard mechanical and potentially add a new splash pad.
The project is now being designed and is expected to be put out to bid in time for work to start later this year and be finished some time next summer.
Quaranta said uncertainty about the timing of the project cost her at least one former lifeguard who opted to take a job at the Northfield pool instead. However, she said she is hoping the lure of working at a refurbished pool that will include a new beach-level entry will be a draw for lifeguards in the future.
Those interested in inquiring about working as a lifeguard this summer are urged to contact Quaranta at 476-0257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.