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UPDATE: St. Albert approves more funding to tackle lifeguard shortage

(Watch: The City of St. Albert says there is a lifeguard shortage and it has no choice but to reduce pool hours. Kendra Slugoski reports.)

EDMONTON – As the Capital Region tries to meet the demand for lifeguards, a St. Albert pool has had to reduce hours because of the staffing crunch.

Since the end of October, there have been closures at Servus Place’s Landrex Water Play Centre.

However, city officials say more reduced hours are planned for the first week of November.

There have not been any reduced hours or closures at the Fountain Park Recreation Centre aquatics facilities.

City officials say they simply don’t have enough staff to keep both pools open.

“It’s more of a regional competition for lifeguards,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse. “As such, we’ve had to cancel some programming and close some facilities for short periods of time. We’ve got a couple more closures this week scheduled.”

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“We’ve had to close [the pool at Servus Place] down for a few hours at a time.

“That’s really about not having enough lifeguards available to provide the service that we require.”

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The City has a ratio of lifeguards to swimmers it has to maintain.

Crouse estimates St. Albert is short about a dozen lifeguards.

St. Albert City Council met Monday night to discuss the lifeguard shortage and how to address the situation.

Crouse said council approved more money for aquatic funds to make some adjustments.

Over the summer, St. Albert’s recreation department conducted a wage review for lifeguards in an effort to keep wages competitive in the region. The wage review was completed and Monday night, council approved funding to support aquatics wage requirements.

A spokesperson for the city said Tuesday: “this wage grid will be posted today and there are no planned closures –all pools in St. Albert will be open on their normal schedules this week and we are working to ensure that the schedules are maximized during peak usage times. The city is taking every measure to ensure that public safety in its aquatics facilities.”

Still, the mayor emphasizes the lifeguard situation is a regional issue.

“Lifeguards will go to where either the scheduled meets their needs or the pay meets their needs so there’s going to be a transfer of lifeguards from one jurisdiction to another.”

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“Alberta has unique challenges,” said Barbara Costache, CAO of the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories.

“Our booming economy and industry. So what our aquatic recreation industry has to do is the same thing that other industry sectors are doing. They have to grow their own, they have to engage youth when they’re young… they have to hire them when they’re younger in different positions, and then they have to groom them.”

“When you have Edmonton-area region, and the City of Edmonton is paying more for a lifeguard per hour, that’s going to present challenges to surrounding areas,” said Costache. “So you have to compete in other means.”

The mayor wouldn’t comment on compensation for St. Albert lifeguards.

“We have to be able to do some comparisons. But, at the end of the day, pay is one issue,” said Crouse. “There’s also just a significant number of facilities open over the last number of years, and it looks to me there’s an imbalance of supply and demand when it comes to lifeguards.”

He said St. Albert noticed the lifeguard shortage in the summer, but said the region’s population growth is a big factor.

“Having them shut it down when you want to go swimming is not the greatest,” said Justin Turner, “especially when you’re a member.”

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Turner said his family uses the pool about once a week.