Are Austin pools ready for the summer?
We know it’s coming: the suffocating blanket of heat that suffocates the city for what seems like months. And when it does, there’s no better rest than a cool, wet pool.
But last year, options for cooling off at a public pool in Austin were limited — with some pools open late or not at all. This year, the city says, that won’t happen. Hope.
“We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll be able to get everything open on June 5,” said Aaron Levine, the aquatics program manager for Austin Parks and Recreation. “There are many factors between now and then. But we are quite optimistic.”
The aquatics division operates 45 facilities throughout the city, including year-round swimming holes like Barton Springs, 26 public pools and neighborhood splash pads. The plan, Levine says, is to have most of them act on time.
Last year, planned openings of the city’s swimming pools were hampered by a lack of lifeguards. A flaw in the hiring system uncovered by an internal audit left the city in shorthand.
To address staffing issues this year, the Aquatics Division raised hiring incentives, offering $20 an hour, free training and cash bonuses.
So far, Levine says, the effort is going well. The city has hired about half of the 850 lifeguards it needs.
“May is really busy and continues to grow,” Levine said. “We have at least 230 people signed up for classes and it’s growing, which is great.”
The city also faces problems with facilities. A lot can happen when pools are closed during the off-season.
“They are really miserable. You never know what’s leaking or what’s going to happen until you turn on the water in the pool,” Levine said.
Before the pandemic, Austin’s pools had 1.5 million visitors. Last year, Austin’s second-hottest summer on record, nearly a million people visited — even with many pools closed. Levine says the city expects at least that much this year and possibly more.
Because for many people, like recent Tennessee transplant Allie Bell, Austin pools aren’t just fun, they’re the only way to survive the summer.
“The second we moved here I was like, I hate it,” Bell said. “It’s too hot. And [swimming] it’s the only thing that can actually make a summer day outside feel enjoyable to me.”
If all goes as planned, Austinites like Bell should soon have dozens more options for chilling out.
And, yes, it’s a lot of work to get the city’s pools ready, but for Levine, the rush isn’t so bad.
“The city of Austin loves their pools, and that’s what makes my job great, because I’m the pool,” he said.
If you plan to hit public pools this summer, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Most community and neighborhood pools are free and scheduled to open on June 5. They will remain open until at least mid-August, but hours may be extended. City of Austin swim classes – for all levels and ages – are $57, or free if you qualify for a scholarship. The city operates five swimming pools throughout the year to keep you cool.
So get out there and enjoy the water while you can.