As it nears the end of a busy summer and begins a new fiscal year in earnest, the Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks & Recreation Commission is addressing important upcoming repairs, concerns and improvements.
During their Friday meeting, commissioners approved spending more than $15,000 for pool pump and disc golf course repairs and discussed issues with lifeguard scarcity at area pools.
Parks and Rec Executive Director Joe Huff told commissioners, staff members and community officials that even though pools did not perform as well as they usually do in June because of rain, they still ended up with surplus revenue at the end of their fiscal year.
“We feel good about the way we ended,” Huff said. “And we’ve started decently, even though we’d like it to be a little better.”
Before the meeting’s conclusion, the department also officially revealed its new logo.
Huff turned early in the meeting to issues behind getting lifeguards at the Springbrook and John Sevier pools.
“We’re getting a few to apply, but getting them to show up and work is another thing. Getting them to work after mid-July is really hard.”
The department employs around 60 lifeguards, Program Coordinator Will Hubbs said. Huff said once school started up in the county, it was a struggle to keep the pools open for the full five to seven hours in afternoon and evening.
“It’s just a real challenge to get lifeguards,” he added, noting many of the young people who fill the shifts often are busy with vacation, school preparation or internships.
When asked if the problem could be resulting from a lack of pay, Huff said he hadn’t heard any complaints about pay and that they had actually given raises for the 2019 season.
He said the pay scale for lifeguards ranged from $7.75 to $8.50 an hour.
He also noted that sporadic scheduling seems to be an issue for employees: Though some of them work 60 hours a week, others who are registered as full time often have others fill in for them.
“The way we classify full time is that full time mean ‘on the schedule full time.’ Part time is not on the schedule. ... They’re about fill ins. But a lot times the full-time (employees) will get others to fill in for them. That’s part of the issue,” Huff said.
Lifeguards are trained and certified in-house and Huff said in an interview after the meeting officials would be sitting down and talking about the shortage issue.
“We’re trying to improve more. ... (The) last couple of years, for instance, we’ve been doing (certification) in-house. It’s not a cheap thing. We’ve been trying to up their pay. Trying to recruit more. The issue is, once school starts, it’s just tough.”
Until then, he added, the department might have to alter pool hours. They were forced to wait until 3:30 p.m. to open Springbrook Pool for several days this summer.
“We’ll do everything we can to keep them open as long as we can,” Huff said.
Repairs in Alcoa
Commissioners also discussed spending for some recreational area repairs in Alcoa.
A broken pump at Springbrook pool caused sections to be temporarily shut down.
Maintenance Superintendent Brian Keyl reported the pump had to be taken out and repaired at a total cost of $6,554.
The money was taken from Alcoa’s capital improvements fund.
Parks & Rec is also partnering with Clayton Homes to share the bill for making repairs to the disc golf course near the company’s facilities.
Money for these repairs also will come from Alcoa’s capital fund and will cost the city $10,310.
“It’s been close to a year now, but Clayton had to do some construction on the back of their property, so our front nine holes of the course are having to be changed around quite a bit,” Huff said, adding the company has been “great” and has cooperated with necessary renovations.
Now Clayton also will spend money on holes throughout the course, financially partnering with Alcoa to make bridge and signage improvements.
The Clayton Homes campus continues to grow and is currently completing add-on construction. Alcoa planning commissioners have approved requests to build more offices and a more recently a bistro onto the existing structure.
The renovation work will move forward soon and commissioners affirmed it was a wise move for the city and the company as the course is frequented by visitors from all over the county.
“We’re getting a good return,” Parks & Rec Commissioner Andy White said.
“I think once they complete dealing with the design ... on it, it’s going to be one of the top courses in the South,” Huff said.