UPDATE: POOL HOURS
With recent changes to CDC guidelines, the city has decided to open the Gardner Aquatic Center (GAC) at its normal hours of operation. This means starting June 5, the pool will be open daily from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting. There is a $6 daily admission fee per person (ages 3-61). This can be paid at the door. See the city’s webpage for additional information.
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner City Council discussed opening the public pool full time for the 2021 Summer at the May 17 council meeting.
Danedri Herbert, resident, said she had watched the last city council meeting with great disgust, and it was time to end the political theater and open the pool full time.
“You’re robbing the children in this town, “ she said. “This community – between its school board and this city council – have robbed the children in this town of one year and counting of education and educational opportunities.”
Herbert said the city had the ability to start limiting some of the damage right now.
“How long are you going to damage the kids,” she said. “Gardner kids deserve better.”
Herbert said there was no need to close the pool every two hours to sanitize, and they should stop the pool reservation system.
“The Johnson County Health Department, the CDC, and WHO are no longer recommending capacity limits,” she said. “Outdoor transmission statistically doesn’t happen.”
Herbert said The Kansas Legislature limited liability for organizations and businesses for transmission that may occur on their properties.
“You’re not going to be sued,” she said.
Herbert said poor kids are hurt the most by the pool not being fully open.
“They don’t have backyard swimming pools,” she said. “Their parents don’t belong to a country club with a pool, and their parents are often working during the day, unable to drive them to other towns, where the pools are open.”
Herbert said everyone over the age of 12 who wants a vaccine is eligible to receive one at this time, and children under the age of 12 aren’t spreading Covid.
“It’s more than apparent that exercise and sunshine are excellent immunity builders— particularly for fighting COVID and bad outcomes of the disease,” she said.
Herbert said the city’s parks and recreation staff used their time and resources to put police tape on city playground equipment instead of working tirelessly to provide the absolute best services to this community.
“They spent time, it appears, looking for ways to get out of doing the jobs the taxpayers are paying them to do,” she said.
Herbert said she, Gardner taxpayers and Gardner’s kids, deserved better.
Jim Pruetting, city administrator, said he appreciated Herbert’s comments and passion. “We are still divided as a country,” he said.
Pruetting said parks and recreation director Jason Bruce had been working tirelessly to make the pool as open as possible. “A curveball was thrown at us a few days ago that changed things,” he said. “I promise staff is working to not limit things on the low end.”
Steve Shute, mayor, the kids had been absolutely savaged, but the city hadn’t had a ton of flexibility before everything changed the last two weeks.
Shute said he wanted to know if the city could re-examine their current processes.
Bruce said he hadn’t received any information from the Johnson County Health Department. “We are still waiting to hear what the county says,” he said. “Not saying we can’t change.”
Bruce said they wanted to open the pool as safe as possible but there were difference in opinions on how to do so.
Pruetting said everyone was trying to catch up with the new guidelines, however it was too late for pool passes for the summer.
He said having full, capable staff was also a major factor in the city being able to open the pool.
Bruce said their biggest concern was they still required the same staff no matter how many hours a day the pool was open.
Mark Baldwin, council member, said he was concerned about there being enough lifeguards staffed and wanted to know the difference of how hours were effected by the amount of staff.
Baldwin said the same people who come to the pool for the two hour reservation slots are also most likely the same people who would stay at the pool for a full day.
Tory Roberts, council member, said most of the complaints she had received last year were about the pool being closed.
She said she fully supported the pool being open full time if the city had enough trained staff.
Pruetting said all county orders had been lifted and everything was now recommendations.
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said there are no mandates.
“ It’s simply recommendations, “ he said. “Restrictions on mass gatherings and masks are in place.”
Randy Gregorcyk, council member, said he also appreciated Herbert’s passionate editorial.
“In my opinion we should open 100 percent,” he said. “I put onus on the parents and some of the info Danedri spoke to is factual.”
Gregorcyk said with only having recommendations from the county and no mandates the city had some latitude.
Baldwin said he wanted to know what was enough staff to be open.
Gregorcyk said that was the linchpin.
Pruetting said they would need to know what staff and scheduling expectations looked like for the day for the staff that had already been hired.
Shute said he wanted to know about the additional cleaning and liability limitations.
Baldwin said he was fine if they had to bring their own chairs and concessions in order for the pool to be open, but it had been proved Covid wasn’t transferable through touch.
Bruce said they had planned for the two hour sessions with 30 minutes in between for cleaning and hadn’t received any updates information from the county.
Gregorcyk said he wanted to know how much staff it took from two hours versus a four hour day etc.
Bruce said they had 55 to 60 people hired for staff, and it was down from previous years, especially for lifeguards and swim lessons. He said 80 staff members was ideal.
Pruetting said they had a hard time hiring people and were competing with fast food establishments raising wages for employees.
Shute said if the city had the staffing they should open the pool full time.
Bruce said the lifeguard stations were the same no matter the pool capacity and built in windows to clean.
Pruetting said they could go back to cleaning once the pool once a day.
Shute and Todd Winters, council member, said they could go back to 2019 protocols if they had the staff to fully open at full capacity.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said the city couldn’t sell season passes at this point but would also like to see the pool open.
Pruetting said they could adjust the lifeguard pay.
Bruce said lifeguards currently make $10.50, and the pool opening on June 5 was a week later than normal years.
Deaton said there had been an underwhelming amount of applicants but $10.50 was more than her teenage sons had made at fast fois jobs.
Bruce said when you lose a year of lifeguards it was hard to bring them back.
Shute said he was interested in a pay increase or a one time bonus to attract more lifeguards.
Gregorcyk said he wanted to know if there was a way to incentivize returning lifeguards into coming back and if it would help the pool of applicants.
Shute said he thought if people knew the pool was going to be fully open that would attract more applicants.
Baldwin said he was trying to figure out how the city could afford to pay extra.
“We don’t need extra,” he said. “How are we opening at all if we are understaffed. “
Bruce said an area of the pool would shut down if there weren’t enough lifeguards for that area of the pool.
Baldwin said he was ok with the pool opening 100 percent even if some areas had to close down.
“We are already losing money,” he said.
Matt Wolff, financial director, said they had paid $17,600 for lifeguards in previous years.
Bruce said it was only a three month window for pool staff.
“I would have to sit down with Matt and see the financial impact of the seasonal budget.”
Winters said he wanted to know what jobs the pool was competing with.
Deaton said she was more happy with an end of year bonus, so the staff is more likely to stay through the whole season.
Gregorcyk said he wanted to know the longevity of the summer pool season.
Baldwin said the city didn’t need to pay extra for this instance.
“We don’t need to throw money,” he said.
Gregorcyk said he appreciated how Bruce had handled all the hurdles thrown at him.