Joplin parks director optimistic about opening Cunningham Pool

May 9—When Memorial Day weekend rolls around, Joplin residents might see Cunningham Pool open again, as well as Schifferdecker Aquatic Park.

Paul Bloomberg, the city's parks and recreation director, said he can't say for sure yet that Cunningham will be available for swimming this summer but that he's hoping.

In 2023, it was open only part time for things such as swim lessons because the city could not recruit an adequate number of lifeguards, but that's changed this year, Bloomberg said.

"Obviously, the pools open Friday, May 31. Our plans are to open Schifferdecker Aquatic Park and also open Cunningham Pool. We're still in the process of doing lifeguard training," Bloomberg said. There are three lifeguard training sessions this month and another scheduled the first week of June if needed.

To open both pools, the department needs 90 lifeguards.

"I can tell you we have 35 lifeguards that have been processed and passed training. With the next classes, we could have 90-plus lifeguards signed up. We need them to pass, but with that many who have applied, we're pretty hopeful that we will be able to open Cunningham, but I don't want to give any guarantees," Bloomberg said.

If there are not enough lifeguards to open Cunningham full time for open swimming, parks department workers will still fill the pool to use for swim lessons and for rentals to hold pool parties.

"But we're hopeful we will be open" for public swimming, Bloomberg said.

He credits a number of factors for attracting more applicants this year.

—City staff started recruiting earlier with an an effort that began in November.

—In addition, the City Council authorized a raise in the starting wage.

"That went up a couple of dollars, which is a huge benefit," Bloomberg said. The starting wage went up to $13.92 an hour. The city also waived a $45 certification fee if applicants pass training, and now pays for the lifeguard license and swimsuit, which the parks director estimates saves the teenage workers $70 to $80.

—Another change is that the city opened the jobs to those who are 15 years old rather than hiring only those ages 16 and up.

"Since they're under 16, we had to get a work permit from the school district. But in the summer, their hours are more flexible than during school year," so getting the permits was not a problem, Bloomberg said.

Even younger teens can get some training in before they are old enough to work.

"We do have a junior lifeguard program for kids age 14, and they shadow lifeguards. It's almost a recruitment tool so they become a lifeguard at 15. It's a program during our summer season so when the pools are up and running during the swimming season, they can be learning," he said. The junior lifeguard program has been available about four years.

If a teen choses not to go ahead to be a certified lifeguard, the experience is still useful to them.

"Having the ability to swim and have first aid and CPR certifications, those are life skills. You don't have to be a lifeguard to benefit from that," Bloomberg said.

Anyone who wants information about the junior program can get more information at www.joplin under the link to programs and events, or call the department's office at 417-625-4750.

Bloomberg said he'll know by mid-May if the lifeguard ranks are full enough to staff both pools through the season.