Aurora's east-side aquatic center to stay closed this summer, for lack of lifeguards

  • Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center in Aurora will not open this summer due to a lack of lifeguards.

    Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center in Aurora will not open this summer due to a lack of lifeguards. Photo courtesy of the Fox Valley Park District

  • Lifeguard Paige Sullivan keeps an eye on guests at Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center.

      Lifeguard Paige Sullivan keeps an eye on guests at Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, June 2021

 
 
Updated 4/29/2022 7:17 AM

There will be no cooling off with a dip in a pool this summer at Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center in Aurora.

The Fox Valley Park District has announced that it will not open the east-side facility because it doesn't believe it will have enough lifeguards to run all three of its pools.

 

"This was definitely a difficult decision. We did not want to come to this," recreation superintendent Sandi Gilmer said Thursday.

It takes about 160 guards -- some part-time, some full-time -- to safely and fully operate Phillips; Splash Country Water Park, which is at Blackberry Farm park; and the indoor water park and pools at Vaughan Athletic Center. She said the Splash Country lazy river alone requires seven lifeguards at once.

So far, Gilmer has 64 guards and 25 other people scheduled to take a 16-hour lifeguard training course. But typically, about one-third of the would-be lifeguards fail, she said. Ideally, she would already have 90% of the staff lined up.

"It's just not enough to man all facilities," Gilmer said.

Last year, the district had about 68 lifeguards. That led to reduced service, including closing some of the amenities.

Why Phillips?

Gilmer explained why the district chose Phillips.

Phillips requires lifeguards with deep-water certification because it has a pool with water over 10 feet deep. People who don't pass that part of the lifeguard test can still serve at Splash Country, which doesn't have deep water.

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Splash Country has room to take on Phillips customers. It can serve 2,000 people; Phillips' capacity is 1,500.

The district thought about opening the parks on alternate days. That would require preparing both pools for the season, which takes several weeks at each site. Other than checking some of the mechanical equipment, the district won't do that prep work this year at Phillips. That means the district won't reverse its decision and open midseason, Gilmer said.

Lifeguard shortage

Gilmer said it has been hard the last six years to get lifeguards and that it is a problem nationwide.

"It was the job to have when I was a teenager (in the 1990s)," the former lifeguard said. The job was featured on television shows such as "Beverly Hills 90210," "Saved By the Bell" and "Baywatch." But now, "It's not in front of the kids," Gilmer said.

She said the district's executive director wonders if it is unattractive because it requires people to concentrate, for two-hour stretches, without access to their cellphones. "They (teens) don't want to be disconnected," she said.

Pay this year is $15 an hour for beginner guards. Guards have to be at least 15 years old.

Last year, a member of the district's Aquatics Administrative Board suggested the district recruit senior citizens.

"We will take anybody who can physically do the job," Gilmer said.

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