by Dennis Dalman
A two-year lifeguard contract with the St. Cloud Area YMCA was approved by the Sartell city council at its last meeting.
Last year was the first year the city contracted for lifeguard-service with the YMCA, on a trial basis. According to Sartell City Administrator Mary Degiovanni and council members, the arrangement worked out very well, with city staff happy about how it freed them up not to spend so much time on pool duties or efforts to staff the pool with lifeguards.
There are two wading pools in the city – one at Watab Park, the other in the Celebration neighborhood.
The cost for lifeguard service for the 2015 summer season will be $18,809 and for the 2016 season $19,144. Those costs have increased from 2014 because of minimum-wage requirements, but the city would have those requirements, anyway, with or without the YMCA service. The contract also spells out that if the YMCA has to provide more than one lifeguard at each pool during hot, busy days that the YMCA will absorb the extra costs. In addition, the contract calls for lifeguards to do some light maintenance duties at the pools.
At the last meeting, there was a consensus among council members that the arrangement with the YMCA has been a good one. However, member Amy Braig-Lindstrom, although positive about the YMCA, said she has concerns about new rules posted at the two pools. She said she had received complaints or concerns from residents because of newly stringent rules posted since the YMCA initiated its lifeguard services. One rule states that children under the age of 10 must be accompanied by and under supervision of an adult. Another rule is that children under the age of 4 must swim within arm’s reach of an adult.
City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said those rules were put into effect at YMCA suggestions to discourage residents from dropping off young children at the pools and using lifeguards as “daycare” or “babysitting” providers.
The wading pools, council member Steve Hennes noted, are 18 inches deep. Most children ages 10 or older would not want to go to wading pools, he said.
Council members, agreeing with Braig-Lindstrom’s concerns, asked several questions:
• Don’t the rules hinder teenaged babysitters from bringing their charges – toddlers or younger – to the pools on scorching days?
• Are rules discouraging children from enjoying the pools? Are they backfiring? Too restrictive?
Hennes said the rule about adults being within arm’s reach is probably a bit of a stretch.
Following those questions, Degiovanni asked Sartell Public Works Director Brad Borders if he had heard complaints about lifeguards “babysitting” in the years when the parks department was in charge of staffing the pools.
Borders said it was fairly common when older siblings would bring younger ones to the pools and drop them off.
“Yes, when we (city staff) were in it, that’s what was happening,” he said.
Sartell Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll said she shares some concerns about pool rules, especially how some rules may be necessary because of some unaccompanied children misbehaving, not necessarily for worries about drowning.
Despite council members’ qualms about rules that may be a tad too prohibitive, they praised the partnership between the city and the YMCA.
The council and Degiovanni agreed the rules should be re-examined or tweaked with input from the YMCA.
Sartell’s two wading pools will be open from 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays through Sundays. The 2015 pool season will begin May 25 and end Sept. 7; the 2016 season will start May 29 and end Sept. 5.