Blanca Henriques, her husband, three young children and a few other family members packed into their SUV on Sunday and drove to the Budd Park pool in northeast Kansas City — only to find the pool empty and empty. It closed along with three other public pools in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 31. The city’s two water parks, Springs Aquatic Center and Bay Water Park, are still open, so Henriques and her family drove more than twenty minutes to the bay in South Kansas City.
Henriques’ family were not the only ones disappointed by the early closure of the pool. Caron Young’s granddaughter and young great-granddaughter live across from Grove Park Pool in the 18th and Vine Districts. She said she was surprised when the pool closed because it seemed busy with people of all ages, especially on warmer days.
“From babies to their 60s, I’ve seen people come here, a place to cool off and have fun,” she said.
Young said she wishes the pools had stayed open until the school session to give the kids something to do. As she walked past the pool on Sunday, a couple with four young children approached her to ask if the pool was open. Although the Kansas City Parks and Recreation website says the pools are closed on July 31, Google Maps still marks them as “open.” Young said people were confused.
“I’ve seen a lot of cars come here and turn around and drive away because the parks were closed, the pools were closed,” she said.
Doug Schroeder, a Kansas City parks department administrator, said the early closure was planned from the start of the season due to budget constraints. He said the swimming pools usually close at the start of the school year.
Schroeder said funding wasn’t the only issue. Staffing was also an uphill battle. There is one in Kansas City and statewide Lack of lifeguards. This delayed the opening of swimming pools in Kansas City, Missouri.
“We’re just trying to get through the year, and hopefully our goal is to have the pool and water parks open Memorial Day through Labor Day next year,” Schroeder said
Schroeder said the city has increased wages and offered free certification classes but is still struggling to keep enough lifeguards at the water parks to finish the season.
“We gave bonuses to such people [referred] Staff and they stayed but none of that affected our issue,” he said.
Due to staff shortages, only parts of the two water parks are open. Certain areas, such as the Lazy River and the slides at Bay Water Park, are closed throughout the summer. At the Springs Aquatic Center, similar facilities have been closed as needed.
Makayla Whitworth is her first summer as a lifeguard on the bay. She said it’s an easy job, and she believes other people have avoided working in pools because of COVID-19. The heat, she added, is another deterrent.
“That’s definitely the hardest part, you don’t want to be here anymore. But that’s probably about it,” she said.
Ja’Davion Fleming is also a lifeguard on the bay for the first time. He said a friend recruited him.
Fleming said he was initially reluctant to become a lifeguard because he was concerned about having to rescue people.
“When you catch someone in distress and you have to go get them, it kind of shocks you like, ‘Oh, snap, like, they’re drowning.’ But everything else is really easy,” he said.
Fleming said he wants to be a lifeguard again next year because he loves swimming and enjoys the work.
On the Kansas side, most public pools are still open. Kansas City’s only public pool, Parkwood Pool, is scheduled to close next Sunday, as are the outdoor public pools at Overland Park. Leawood Aquatic Center is closing Labor Day.