Sweltering summer causes admissions hot streak at area public pools
Head over heels, children play in the water at Hinkley Pool in Park Ridge on July 16. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:23AM
About noon on a recent hot-but-tolerable day two-dozen children swam and splashed at Oasis Fun Center, at 7877 Milwaukee Ave. in Niles.
The water playground’s zero-depth pool, into which swimmers can walk without a ladder, was particularly crowded. Heads bobbed up and down in the water as children went deeper into the pool.
Then, out of the blue, a lifeguard’s whistle followed by a large splash interrupted all chatter. In less than 10 seconds a female guard had spotted a boy flailing in the water, jumped into the pool and pulled him out to safety.
The 5-year-old had gotten in over his head when he left the shallow end.
“That’s the spot in the pool,” said Oasis supervisor Nick Jochim. “A two-and-a-half-foot kid just gets a little too deep. That’s one that could turn into a disaster.”
The boy was OK, albeit frightened, and clutched tightly onto his mom as the guard recounted to her what had just happened.
Jochim said swimmer saves happen all the time. But with an increasing number of people patronizing public pools this summer, lifeguards have had to be extra-attentive.
Parents have also been more alert since the recent drowning of a 4-year-old at a public pool in Glenview, he said.
To ensure the safety of swimmers, extra guards are placed on duty when the sun is hot and the pool is crammed.
A few times this year staff at Oasis Fun Center had to slow down the rate at which people entered to prevent overcrowding.
“There’s definitely times in which any more admission would put us in a situation where we aren’t comfortable,” Jochim said.
In addition to a high number of patrons visiting Niles’ Oasis Fun Center, business at Park Ridge and Morton Grove pool facilities has also been going swimmingly, which park staff attribute to a variety of factors.
The temporary closure of 12 Chicago Park District pools for two weeks in June prompted some city dwellers to visit their suburban neighbors’ facilities.
The summer’s record temperatures are also causing more families to flock to the pools in droves to beat the scorching heat.
“The hot weather is a huge contributor,” said Aquatics Manager Jackie Gonzalez, who oversees operations at the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s three pools. “I don’t think we’ve hit capacity but we definitely have been keeping busy.”
To date the Park District has sold 5,000 season passes to its pools, which is 300 more than last summer, Gonzalez reported.
Between Memorial Day weekend and mid-July, Centennial Pool, 100 S. Western Ave., had about 1,500 more visits by people who paid the daily admission fee compared with last year’s totals. The number of swipes by season-pass holders increased by 5,000.
Hinkley Pool, 25 Busse Highway, opened June 2 and had about 1,000 more daily-fee visits and 2,000 more season-pass visits than last year.
Gonzalez said power outages last year caused quite a few pool closures. This summer the pools have shut down for only a handful of hours, another reason for why numbers are up.
Niles’ experience has been similar.
“Needless to say, with being open almost every day this year, combined with the very hot weather, our daily revenues have increased dramatically over last year,” said Tom Elenz, finance director for the Niles Park District.
As of July 11, the park has sold 35 more season passes than last summer. The total dollar-amount for passes is $108,213, compared with $104,137 last year.
Where the park has seen the biggest increase, though, is in daily swim fees, as the pool brought in $35,300 more than last summer by this time.
Anna Subhani, of Des Plaines, has noticed the uptick in pool dwellers. She brings her two sons, Imad, 4, and Mohammad, 3, to Niles for private swim lessons two to three times a week.
She likes the kid-friendliness of the center and the fact that it’s less-spread-out than other park pools, but said it got crowded when the weather was extremely warm.
“When the heat wave was going on, we couldn’t sit,” Subhani said. “And everyone was in the pool. It was packed.”
Public pools in Morton Grove are also experiencing record numbers of patrons, Supervisor Jen Tiltges said.
“We’ve definitely sold more passes than last year and we’re excited about that,” she said. “We’re doing our part to help the community in the extreme heat.”
Morton Grove has two park facilities with kiddie pools, diving boards and lap lanes. Harrer Pool is at 6250 Dempster St. and Oriole Pool is at 9200 Oriole Ave.
Tiltges said she’s seen a growing number of people come to swim at night when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong. Holidays are also big pool days.
Gym rats, too, are reportedly finding refuge in the water.
Morton Grove’s Oriole Pool is one of the few outdoor facilities with a 50-meter lap lane, Tiltges said.
“It’s a good place for people to get their exercise in when it’s too hot to go out for a run,” she said.