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Culture & History

St. Louis-Area Pools Plan Splashy Comeback This Memorial Day Weekend

 A little girl screams as she volts down the slide at Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility in St. Charles in May 2020.
David Kovaluk
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A little girl screams as she volts down the slide at Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility in St. Charles in May 2020.

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and, in a drastic shift from 2020's summer kickoff, many public pools will again open for swimming, raft lounging and lifeguard-soaking cannonballs.

Dry pools will be a rare sight as pool operators say goodbye to capacity limits, temperature checks and mask requirements put in place last summer following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Operators can accommodate social distancing on pool decks without ever hitting capacity levels, said Bert Ford, president of Midwest Pool Management, which runs and staffs around 60 pools in the St. Louis region, including Kirkwood, Maplewood and Ferguson public pools.

Some pools will still require people to wear masks if they have not been vaccinated for COVID-19 but won’t require that people provide proof of receiving the shot.

Across the Missouri River, St. Charles is gearing up for another busy summer season. It was one of the few municipalities that opened its public pools on Memorial Day weekend last year.

“We're very confident this year going into the season, opening at 100% capacity,” St. Charles Parks and Recreation Director Maralee Britton said. “We'll monitor throughout the course of the day to make sure that we're not too overcrowded.”

St. Charles and other pool operators will be keeping many of the same cleaning routines as last year, including increased sanitization of high-touch surfaces.

“I think over the course of the last year, everybody's well-stocked in hand sanitizer now. But we'll still have extra on hand in case,” Britton joked.

 A lifeguard watches swimmers float down Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility's lazy river in St. Charles during opening weekend in May 2020.
David Kovaluk
A lifeguard watches swimmers float down Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility's lazy river in St. Charles during opening weekend in May 2020.

Last year, 87,000 visitors swam in St. Charles pools. That’s around 65% attendance for a normal swim season. Britton expects this year to top 100,000 visitors as the city’s parks, in general, are busier now than last year.

“There was a lot of discovery in people's backyard of things that they could do without having to travel great distances,” Britton said.

CDC guidelines say there is no evidence the coronavirus can be spread through water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper levels of chlorine and other chemicals should kill the virus in the water, according to the CDC.

A slower start for some pools

Some municipalities, including St. Louis and Ferguson, opted to keep their outdoor public swimming pools closed for all of 2020 because operating the facilities at reduced capacity would have been too costly to be able to turn a profit.

But pools that remained closed last summer are paying a price now — whether it’s staffing issues or the pool needing repairs after lying dormant.

“Not opening a facility requires twice as much catch-up work the following year to get it ready,” Ferguson Parks and Recreation Director David Musgrave said. “Twice as many leaves in the pool, twice as much water to drain out, twice as much dirt on the lounge chairs to clean off.”

Musgrave had to delay opening Ferguson’s aquatic center until June 5, after he learned one of the main water pumps needed to be replaced.

St. Louis can’t officially reopen this Memorial Day weekend either, due to a shortage of lifeguards. Marquette Pool will open on Saturday only, but Fairgrounds Pool and Chambers Pool will remain closed.

The city has half the lifeguards needed to safely reopen this year, said Greg Hayes, St. Louis’ director of parks, recreation and forestry.

Hayes said the pools will reopen once they have hired 20 more lifeguards. The city pays $15 an hour.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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