Potential staffing problems could restrict access at Aiken's Smith-Hazel pool

Feb. 18—The city of Aiken spent $1.25 million renovating the pool at the Smith-Hazel Recreation Center in 2019 but a lifeguard shortage and state regulations could force the city to restrict access to the pool again this summer.

The newly renovated pool with 3,436 square feet of water surface, slides, spray jets and various other features reopened June 19, 2020 but, last summer, the pool's hours and days of operation were limited and a group of swim lessons was canceled.

Jessica Campbell, the city's parks, recreation and tourism manager, said Monday evening at a city council worksession that the city began the summer with five lifeguards but was down to three by the middle of summer.

She said these staffing issues forced the city to limit hours and days of operation to comply with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations.

Last summer, state health department classified the pool as a Type E pool. The department's regulations require a minimum of three staff members on site — two lifeguards and a front desk person — whenever a guest is on the pool deck. If the slide is open, an additional lifeguard is required.

When more than 25 guests are on the pool deck, an additional lifeguard is needed, meaning four staff members are needed when the slide is closed and five when it is open.

"On a normal public swim shift, with the slide open and 51-150 guests, we would need five staff members (one front desk and four lifeguards)," Campbell's presentation said. "This is minimal for operation and does not allow for staff breaks or time off."

In order to get more staff, Campbell said the city has increased the pay of lifeguards — the city will pay for a lifeguard to get certified — from $9.46 to $11.76 for a lifeguard and $12.76 for a swim instructor.

City Councilwoman Lessie Price said she'd like to see the pay increased to $15 per hour.

Monday, Campbell asked the city council's preference if more lifeguards aren't hired, even with the additional hourly pay. She presented two options: a course similar to last summer's or having the pool reclassified by the state.

Campbell said the state department assured her the pool could be reclassified as a Type B pool with a few adjustments. Namely, the large slide would have to be removed or secured and the city could no longer offer a daily rate to swimmers.

She said the city could work around the daily rate by offering a three-day pass, the minimum allowed, for $3.

The three-day pass would actually be cheaper for swimmers than the current rates. The city currently charges swimmers $3 per day.

A student pass allowing unlimited visits would be available for $30 and a family pass allowing four people unlimited visits would be available for $140.

Reclassifying the pool, Campbell said, allows the city to operate with few or no lifeguards, resolving the staffing problem. She said the city has no intention of operating without lifeguards or swim instructors.

But, the city council seemed to prefer to operate similarly to last summer (albeit with the lower rates of the reclassification plan).

Councilwoman Andrea Gregory said seeing the large slide at the pool added to the experience of the pool.

Campbell said the city must apply to have the pool classified by April, providing a little time to see whether the additional pay attracts more staff or restrictions or a reclassification will be needed.