MANHATTAN – Swimmers were visibly upset, some voicing their frustration, after being kicked out of the only outdoor public pool that was open Tuesday at John Jay Park on the Upper East Side.
When the announcement came over the loud speaker ordering everyone out of the water at 1:00 pm, the massive swimming pool was nearly empty. That didn’t matter to Parks officials.
Everyone was forced to leave to make way for a different group of a swimmers, despite the pool being below capacity.
The bizarre move comes as the Parks Department tries to grapple with a nationwide lifeguard shortage, but still doesn’t make any sense to longtime pool-goers who first arrived to find three-quarters of the pool closed off, before ultimately being booted altogether.
“The routine is you come early. You get in into the pool. You stay into the pool,” 75-year-old Joe Lovullo explained to Upper East Site.
“If anybody comes afterwards and [the pool is] at capacity, filled, you have to wait until somebody leaves— and then that person can go in.”
Joe had come to John Jay Park this morning from the Upper West Side specifically for the opening day of New York City public pools. He plans to cool off and maybe swim some laps. A summer routine he’s enjoyed for 40 years— until today.
“There was never ‘you’re in there for an hour-and-a-half and they tell you you got to leave’ because these other people just want to get in,” the frustrated Upper West Sider continued.
“Those people should have been here earlier.”
NYC Parks says it has hired only 658 lifeguards as of June 25th—- fewer than half of the 1,400 to 1,500 certified lifeguards the agency hoped to staff the City’s beaches and pools this summer.
“We will adjust our operations at beaches and pools based on daily lifeguard head counts,” a Parks Department spokesperson told Upper East Site prior the debacle at John Jay Park.
However, the real world effect of those adjustments has NYC Parks restricting access to the public pool at John Jay Park, located on East 77th Street between York Avenue and the FDR Drive, when it wasn’t necessary, based on the crowd size.
A Parks’ worker told Upper East Site that a single lifeguard can only supervise 75 swimmers at a time, which is why they were allowing people in for time-limited ‘sessions’ in the pool.
“So the way it works is when people [come] we give them an hour, then after the hour is done, all those people leave and these people come in,” the worker explained.
However, no one from NYC Parks at the pool on Tuesday could detail the rationale for kicking out the thirteen swimmers we observed in the public pool just before 1:00 pm— as well as roughly a dozen more sunbathers on the pool deck– to make way for the fewer than thirty people waiting outside the locker rooms.
Based on the total number of pool-goers observed by Upper East Site on Tuesday afternoon, NYC Parks was restricting access despite the two groups combined that would total fewer than 75 people— the limit for one lifeguard to supervise if everyone was swimming simultaneously.
Crystal came from East Harlem, arriving a half hour before the pool was scheduled to open Tuesday morning, to make sure she got a space for a pool day.
She was very disappointed when she was sent packing at 1:00 pm.
“I’m just so shocked this is the first day of the pool and like this is happening,” Crystal told us as she was leaving John Jay Park shortly after being kicked out.
“You have one lifeguard. It makes no sense.”
With temperatures set to rise into the 90s later this week, Mayor Eric Adams says his team is working feverishly to staff-up amid the shortage.
“Our public pools, they are considered to be the French Riviera for those communities that have to stay home,” said Mayor Adams on Monday.
“So we want to open as many as possible, but it is a challenge,” he added.
This month, Bernard J. Fisher II with the American Lifeguard Association told NPR that the Covid-19 pandemic is partly to blame— cutting the number of J-1 work visas, which he says accounted for a large number of lifeguards coming from Eastern Europe, as well as delays in training and the expiration of certifications.
“That was the straw in the camel’s back that broke everything down,” said Fisher, who serves as director of health and safety for the association.
Due to the national lifeguard shortage, New York City Parks has also cancelled all swim programs this year at the City’s 53 public pools— that means no lap swim, senior swim or learn to swim classes.
Due to the national lifeguard shortage, unfortunately we will not be hosting swim programs, including lap swim, senior swim, and Learn to Swim, at our outdoor pools this summer. Outdoor pools will remain open each day for general swim from 11am-3pm and from 4pm–7pm.— NYC Parks (@NYCParks) June 14, 2022
“We have a couple of creative ideas we’re going to put in place to deal with this national problem,” Adams explained.
New York City’s free outdoor public pools will be open daily through Sunday, September 11th from 11:00 am through 7:00 pm, with a one hour closure from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm for cleaning.
However, if Tuesday was any indiction, you’ll should expect to be kicked out for no reason, because of the ‘sessions’ policy.
Upper East Site inquired to NYC Parks about the time limits and relayed the frustration described by swimmers, but did not hear back by time of publication.