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As heat waves persist, most public pools in Kansas City, Missouri, are closed

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Blanca Henrriques (right) pays entry fees at the Bay Water Park in South Kansas City Sunday. She and her family went to Budd Park Pool, more than 20 minutes away, first but it was closed.

While oppressive heat swept through the metro over the weekend, there were fewer places for people to cool off. The city closed four pools on July 31.

Blanca Henrriques, her husband, three small children and a few other family members packed into their SUV on Sunday and drove to Budd Park Pool in northeast Kansas City — only to find the pool was vacant and drained.

It closed, along with three other public pools in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 31. The city’s two water parks, the Springs Aquatic Center and the Bay Water Park are still open, so Henrriques and her family drove more than 20 minutes to the Bay in South Kansas City.

Henrriques’ family wasn’t the only one disappointed by early pool closures. Caron Young’s granddaughter and toddler great-granddaughter live across the street from Grove Park Pool in the 18th and Vine District.

She said she was surprised when the pool closed when it did because it seemed busy with people of all ages, especially on warmer days.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Grove Park Pool in the 18th and Vine District ended its season a little earlier than usual this year on July 31st. Other public pools in Kansas City, Missouri, did the same.

“Babies, all the way up to, I saw people like in their sixties coming over here, a place to cool off and have fun," she said.

Young said she wishes the pools would have stayed open until school was in session, to give kids something to do. On her walk past the pool Sunday, a couple with four young children approached her to ask if the pool was open.

Though the Kansas City Parks and Recreation website indicates pools closed July 31, Google Maps still marks them as “open.” Young said people have been confused.

“I've watched a lot of cars come over here and turn around and leave because the parks were closed, the swimming pools were closed,” she said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Samari Washington is lifeguarding at the Bay Water Park for the first time this summer. She says the park has been busy, but she loves the job. Washington thinks other people her age may not want to lifeguard because they are afraid of catching COVID.

Doug Schroeder, an administrative officer for the Kansas City parks department, said the early closure was planned from the beginning of the season due to budgetary constraints. He said the pools normally close at the start of the schoolyear.

Schroeder said funding was not the only issue. Staffing has also been an uphill battle. In Kansas City and nationwide, there is a lifeguard shortage. This delayed pool openings in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We're just trying to make it through the year and hopefully our goal is to have the pool and water parks open from Memorial Day to Labor Day next year,” Schroeder said

Schroeder said the city raised pay and offered free certification classes but still struggled to keep enough lifeguards at the waterparks to finish out the season.

“We were giving bonuses for people that [referred] employees and they stuck around, but none of that has made a dent in our problem,” he said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
A gate blocks off the slides and lazy river at the Bay Water Park. The amenities have been closed all summer because there are not enough lifeguards to staff them.

Due to a lack of workers, only parts of the two water parks are open. Certain areas, like the lazy river and slides at the Bay Water Park, for example, have been closed all summer. At the Springs Aquatic Center, similar amenities have been closed as needed. Admission fees are adjusted based on how much of the park is open.

Makayla Whitworth is working her first summer as a lifeguard at the Bay. She said it’s an easy job, and she thinks other people have avoided working at pools because of COVID-19. The heat, she added, is another deterrent.

“That’s definitely the hardest part, it makes you not even want to be here. That’s probably about it, though,” she said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Ja'Davion Fleming, an incoming high school sophomore, keeps watch of the kiddie pool at the Bay Water Park. Fleming said at first he was a little intimated to lifeguard but he likes the job now.

Ja’Davion Fleming is also a first-time lifeguard at the Bay. He said a friend recruited him.

Fleming said he was hesitant to be a lifeguard at first because he was worried about having to rescue people.

“When you catch somebody in distress, and you gotta go get them, it do kinda shock you a little bit like, ‘Oh, snap, like, they 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 job.

On the Kansas side, most public pools are still open. Kansas City, Kansas’s only public pool, Parkwood Pool, is scheduled to close next Sunday, as are outdoor public pools in Overland Park. The Leawood Aquatic Center closes Labor Day.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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