Chicago Park District vows to open some pools July 5 — but won’t say how many

“We’re doing everything we can to get as many pools across the city open,” said Daphne Johnson, the Park District’s chief program officer.

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The closed Chicago Park District pool in Portage Park, shown on June 14, 2022.

The Chicago Park District pool in Portage Park, locked up earlier this month.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The Chicago Park District has “every intention” of opening at least some of its shuttered pools on July 5, but how many will actually be open depends on how many lifeguards it can hire and train in the coming days. 

Under fire for keeping pools closed and lakefront beaches open during an oppressive heat wave, the Park District’s chief program officer, Daphne Johnson, told a joint City Council committee on Friday that the district is doing “everything we possibly can” to recruit lifeguards amidst a nationwide shortage.

That includes waiving the residency requirement for lifeguards and offering a $600 bonus, up from an initial offer of $500.

“We are working on a summer pool operational plan to look at all pools across the city in comparison to our seasonal hiring. Those numbers are being matched to as many locations as we can get” while still providing “safe coverage around the city,” Johnson said Friday.

“We absolutely plan on opening pools on July 5. … We’ve gotten some decent numbers this week in testing lifeguards. We’re offering another class next week,” she added.

“We’re doing everything we can to get as many pools across the city open. … My team is … going over different options of how many pools we can get open and how we can saturate the city as much as possible with our pool operations.”

The Park District manages 49 outdoor pools, 28 indoor pools and operates some Chicago Public Schools pools for community use.

South Side Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) didn’t buy the argument that a nationwide shortage is the primary factor hampering efforts to open those pools.

She laid most of the blame on the Park District’s mishandling of, and painfully slow response to, the sexual harassment and abuse of lifeguards at the city’s pools and beaches.

The controversy led to the ouster of Superintendent Mike Kelly and three of his top aides, as well as the resignation of Park Board President Avis LaVelle.

“We ain’t got a labor problem. We’ve got a how-we-treat-people problems. That Park District … just went through a scandal and it was not honest with its citizens about what happened. That’s what it is. I’ve got parents telling me they’re not sending their kids back to the Park District,” the always-outspoken alderperson said.

Taylor said Park District Superintendent Rosa Escareno tried to enlist her help in recruiting more lifeguards, to no avail.

“Why would I bring [more applicants] if y’all gonna sweep under the rug what happened and not be honest. And I have not heard y’all talk about what safeties are put in place to protect those young people who now want to work at the Park District,” Taylor said.

She added: “The pools not being open in one of the hottest summers we’ve ever had is problematic. And I wish you all would have come to us about the issues you all were having [with] hiring.”

Not just hot about the pools

Taylor wasn’t the only alderperson venting at the Park District during Friday’s joint committee meeting called to question top mayoral aides on summer safety plans.

Mayoral challenger Roderick Sawyer (6th) complained about the “half-a-foot-high” grass and shoddy baseball field he found at Hamilton Park in Englewood. 

“It was horrendous,” Sawyer said. 

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown also faced tough questions about officer fatigue amidst a relentless string of canceled days off.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said he has “never been more” fearful than he is now about the violence that may occur over the July 4 weekend.

“The absolute ridiculous amount of police officers we don’t have and what we’re doing to the officers we do have — working them to the bone,” Napolitano said.

Brown said the ways CPD attempts to “rotate” days off is “pretty intricate.”

“We’ve got some officers who have worked a couple weeks that we are exempting. ... We look for that flexibility every day to make sure that they are fresh,” he said.

But Brown acknowledged the stress posed by “emerging trends” — like this week’s shooting at North Avenue Beach and protests “that could go on for several days” triggered by Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“It is a challenge maintaining the beat integrity,” he said. 

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