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Lack of lifeguards hurting pool opening prospects

6 more lifeguards needed or pool may not open for 2021 swim season

IDLE — The Belleview Pool sits idle and may not open for the 2021 swim season due to a lack of lifeguard applications. -- Michael D. McElwain

STEUBENVILLE — Unless she can find at least six more lifeguards, Steubenville Parks and Recreation Director Lori Fetherolf says there’s a chance Belleview Pool won’t open for the 2021 swim season.

“I need at least eight lifeguards and I only have two applications,” Fetherolf said. “If we don’t have more applications by the first part of May, we will begin discussing whether we can even open.”

She said there’s a lifeguard shortage across the country — another thing you can chalk up to the pandemic.

“We weren’t open last year and there were no classes to certify guards,” Fetherolf said. “That’s put everybody a year behind. My guards two years ago were seniors in college, either graduating or doing internships. Out of the eight I had two years ago, two are coming back.”

She figures they’ll need at least eight lifeguards. “Being teenagers and college students, we need backups for when the kids need time off for vacation and those kinds of things,” she said.

“My concern as parks and recreation director is if we don’t open this year, I don’t know if we’ll reopen again (ever). Having the equipment just sitting there for two years, (not being used), it just gives momentum to not reopening.

“Plus, we have kids who come up there every day, they’re at the pool all day every day. It’s something they look forward to,” she said. “The kids who use our pool are typically kids that don’t have transportation to other pools — they can’t (get in a car and) go to Mingo Junction, Weirton or Toronto. They come here. If it’s not open, that gives them nowhere to go to swim — that’s not what we’re about.”

She said a lifeguard class will be offered at Steubenville High School, May 3-7, for anyone in the community interested in being certified. “Anyone can do it,” Fetherolf said. “We’ll reimburse the course fees at the end of summer for anyone that works for us this year.”

She admits she’s “starting to get very concerned” about the lack of applicants. “It’s getting to our critical time. A decision will have to be made in the next few weeks. I’m starting to be concerned we won’t have enough to open even a few days a week — that had been thrown out as a possibility, opening for just a few days a week, but I’d still need more than two guards even for that.”

The park board will be making its decision at its May 12 meeting.

“We employ 15 or so kids a year, every summer,” Fetherolf said. “That would be 15 less jobs available for young people in our area. If we can’t fill these lifeguard positions, we can’t open.”

She said communities across the country are struggling to fill lifeguard positions, “it’s not just typical to us, everybody’s having the same trouble.”

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