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Swimming Pool Staffed

By Staff | Apr 22, 2016

Rugby Swimming Pool manager Bonnie Berginski is breathing a little easier this week after a long, frustrating search for lifeguards to work the summer season yielded 11 applicants.

A few weeks back, the outlook for lifeguards was so bleak it looked as if the pool might not even open this summer.

“We have six levels of swimming lessons,” Berginski said. “Last year we had 11 lifeguards and we need at least that many to cover all the areas. We’ve had 15 other years and we have enough hours we could use 15 again.”

“Kids are so busy,” Berginski said. “They’re going all over the place.” She cites summer athletic camps as a major activity taking away potenial lifeguards. “The ones we want are athletic,” she said. Those good athletes make good lifeguards, but they just aren’t available. “Last summer we started late because of a shortage of lifeguards.”

In summers past the pool has trained teenagers, only to have them quit after a couple of weeks. “Some of them quit for a job with better hours, and some of them say they’re bored,” she said. “And for some, there’s no commitment to their community.”

Berginski believes lifeguard pay is not a big issue. “They start at $9 an hour and every year they get a $1 per hour raise for returning,” she said. Lifeguards must pass a test that includes endurance and retrieval swimming and then complete 25 hours of training to become Red Cross certified.

The city pays for Water Safety Instructor (WSI) training, and after passing the course a lifeguard gets a $2 per hour pay raise. WSI-certified lifeguards have more responsibilities. They instruct swimming classes, report to the Red Cross on the classes they teach, keep records and are completely in charge of the instruction level to which they are assigned.

Berginski, who has been pool manager for the past two years, arranges for a lifeguard trainer to come from Devils Lake. “I contact potential lifeguards from area towns with pools, Leeds, Rolette, Cando, to train in Rugby to make it more worthwhile. I’m trying to get a WSI trainer to come to Rugby. Previously we’ve sent our lifeguards to Minot.” It’s hard to schedule training because it takes place in May, a month already packed with activities for students.

Berginski set April 20 as the last day to accept applications, but says she will take latecomers. “I had to put a deadline on it because I needed to be able to tell the instructors how many we would have,” she said.

The pool is tentatively set to open for the season after Memorial Day. The schedule will be much the same as other years, starting with lap swimming and exercise at 6:30 a.m. “We always have a good crowd,” Berginski noted. Throughout the day private lessons, open swimming and aquasize classes are held until the pool closes at 9 p.m.

Two private lesson sessions are held each day and attract students from as far away as Bottineau and Minot. “We even had a girl from Kansas last year who called and wants to do provate lessons again this year,” Berginski said.

For many years Towner has sent a school bus with students for group lessons, two different sessions for two weeks at a time.

Weekends are on a different schedule, and Berginski warns the pool may not even be open on Sundays due to the shortage of help. “The long work week really deters people from becoming lifeguards,” she said.

Improvements to the pool have been made in recent years, including new pool heaters last year. As with any building, the pool requires constant maintenance. “The air handling system went out last year,” Berginski said, “and the recreation board has a list of things they’d like to fix.”

A lap lane was added last year so swimmers can do laps during open swimming. “We’re looking at getting a platform so we can give lessons to younger children,” Berginski said. Now the shallow end is three feet deep, and small kids are up to their neck when they are standing in the water.

We’re going to start a program in conjunction with Anytime Fitness for kids seven to 18,” Berginski said. “We’ll meet two days a week for one hour and get kids to exercise in the water. We’ll do relays and some swimming and fun exercises.”

According to Berginski the recreation board wanted to be able to offer pool parties, but ran into the same situation: a shortage of employees.

Even with the issues the pool faces, Berginski is upbeat. “For swimming lessons, it’s ideal to have an indoor pool. It’s out of the wind. It’s heated. It’s a big advantage over outdoor pools because we don’t have to cancel because of the weather.”

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