Aquatics Center Opens Strong

As of Wednesday, the Huether Family Aquatics Center in Yankton has 52 lifeguards on its roster, with 17-18 working at one time and rotating around various stations in the sprawling facility. City officials said they are still taking applications for lifeguards and other workers.

How popular is the new Huether Family Aquatics Center in Yankton?

At the current pace, the new $11 million facility may need only about three weeks to break the season attendance at the 70-year-old Fantle Memorial Park swimming pool it replaced, according to Parks and Recreation Director Todd Larson.

The aquatics center officially opened Memorial Day (May 31). In its first full week of use, the facility drew nearly 1,000 paid attendees daily, compared to Memorial Park pool’s average of 243 over its last eight years, Larson said.

“Our total attendance through June 6 has been 6,874 for an average daily attendance of 982,” he said. “These 2021 totals do not include children 3 and under. Since they are admitted free, we don’t track how many of them have attended.”

In addition, the aquatics center sold 2,869 season passes through Wednesday — a jump of 184 from just two days earlier.

The aquatics center attendance may climb with current temperatures consistently remaining in the 90s. The outlook for the next week calls for continued hot, dry weather.

RECORD PACE

The roughly 7,000 attendance during the aquatics center’s first week far outpaces the old swimming pool’s best figures in recent years, Larson said.

“The average attendance for the entire season at Fantle Memorial Park Pool over the last eight years of its operation was 17,486,” he said. “The highest attendance year was 2012 at 19,997 and then 2017 at 19,012.”

Yankton didn’t operate a municipal swimming pool last year because of pool demolition and construction on the same site. The pool would likely have been closed all season regardless because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increased daily usage at the aquatics center can also be attributed to new features at the facility that make it more attractive for all ages, Larson said. The higher attendance starts even before the official start of the regular swimming sessions, he said.

“The 6 a.m.-to-11 a.m. check-in is for swim team, water walking in the lazy river and lap swimming. Those check-ins are included in the total attendance for the day,” he said. “The lazy river walking and the adult lap swimming in the morning are new offerings with this facility as we did not have that in Fantle Memorial Pool.”

During its first week, the aquatics center saw strong attendance on Memorial Day with 866 paid attendees, and the following weekend with a three-day total of about 3,400.

So far, the aquatics center attendance is running at about the same pace as predicted in the Bonestroo Report in 2004, Larson noted. The report provided a market analysis with data for the effort to build a new facility in Yankton.

The study used an 84-day season, with revenues projected at a 70-day season taking into account closed days because of inclement weather. Based on that scenario, the study projected an average of 1,021 attendees per day for total season attendance of 71,470.

STAFFING ISSUES

What about finding the staff members needed to oversee such a large operation?

While many communities are experiencing a lifeguard shortage, Yankton stands in good shape for its staffing, City Manager Amy Leon said.

“As far as lifeguards, we have recruited enough for the summer,” she said.

The city wants to have additional pool staff available, if needed, over the course of the season, Leon said.

“We have adequate staff for the aquatics center, but we can always use other persons,” she said. “As summer continues, things happen, so we’re always interested in people who want to serve the community and have a fun summer job. We’re open to having people (continue) to apply.”

While drawing major attention, the aquatics center isn’t the only public swimming facility in town, Leon noted. “We still have the Summit Activities Center (SAC) swimming pool that’s open,” she said.

Lifeguard Lily Diedrichsen forms part of the crew keeping their eyes on those in and around the aquatic center.

“This is my third year of being a lifeguard,” she told the Press & Dakotan. “It’s gone pretty good (with the new aquatics center). Everyone is really excited with it opening.”

The new facility brings a new recreational offering to Yankton, she said. If the opening weekend was any indication, kids — as well as kids of all ages — are showing a strong interest. A number of families have made it an outing.

The aquatics center far surpasses its 70-year-old predecessor, Diedrichsen said. “This is way nicer than our last pool,” she added.

The lifeguards went through the aquatics center prior to its season opening to familiarize themselves with the new facility and its features, she said.

The lifeguards move to different sites around the aquatics center during their work shifts, Diedrichsen said.

“We have our rotations so we can see all the areas and not miss anything,” she said. “It’s a pretty big water park. Everyone seems to like it.”

The length of a lifeguard’s work day can vary depending on different factors, Diedrichsen said. The longest shifts are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and those who give swimming lessons the same day will work additional hours, she said.

“I think people (who use the aquatics center) have been as excited as we are about the facility,” she said.

TAKING APPLICATIONS

Finding enough summer employees has proven a challenge in past years, Leon said. Adequate lifeguard staffing plays a key role in keeping the aquatics center running and fully operational, she added.

The city has worked to schedule the needed staff at the aquatics center based on the particular situation that day, Larson said.

“We staff 18 guards to be working when daycares are present during the weekday afternoons and 17 when they are not,” he said. “However, we may be staffing 18 every day in the afternoon with how busy we have been so far.”

The needed staffing levels for lifeguards fluctuate during the summer, Larson said.

“Demand for lifeguards, and specifically WSI (Water Safety Instructors) goes up when we start to offer swimming lessons at both the indoor pool at the SAC and at the outdoor aquatic center, besides being open for regular operations and staffing open swims,” he said.

The City of Yankton continues welcoming lifeguard applications, Larson said.

“Currently we have approximately 52 on our staff but would ideally like more. Typically, we have seen guards getting less excited to be working by the end of the summer, but with a new facility, we will see what this summer brings,” he said.

“We’re still taking applications for lifeguards and WSI instructors. We would like to have 60 or more guards on staff so we are definitely still hiring for guards.”

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To learn more about Yankton’s parks and recreation offerings, visit www.cityofyankton.org.

To contact someone in regards to The Huether Family Aquatics Center, please email TheHuetherFamilyAquaticsCenter@cityofyanton.org

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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