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Milton-Freewater enlists YMCA to provide city pool lifeguard services

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Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center in Milton-Freewater

Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center in Milton-Freewater

MILTON-FREEWATER — City Council voted unanimously this week to contract with the Walla Walla YMCA for lifeguard services to staff the Milton-Freewater Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center for the 2020 season.

Milton-Freewater has struggled with finding enough lifeguards to staff the city’s aquatic center, according to city documents.

Through the contract with the YMCA, the city will save around $23,000 a year.

“We normally spend approximately $147,000 a year on labor for the pool,” according to city documents.

The contract with the YMCA for lifeguard services is $81,514.

Milton-Freewater will still pay for staffing the concession stand and a manager to oversee the operation on a daily basis.

“Laws and regulations governing public pool facilities have gotten more stringent, and labor laws have not been conducive to the hiring of teenagers who have traditionally made up the majority of pool staff labor,” the document stated.

A factor in the change was Washington’s minimum wage, which is over $2 an hour more than Oregon’s, making jobs in Milton-Freewater, so close to the state line, less attractive.

“We also struggled with getting lifeguards who were sufficiently trained and properly certified as this was getting more and more expensive to do with less opportunities and classes to attend,” the document stated.

The city tried recruiting methods and offered scholarships to pay for training to become a lifeguard, but these efforts were not successful enough.

YMCA’s new director and CEO, Karen Hedine, offered a solution that the city enter into a contract where they pay the YMCA a flat fee for lifeguard services for the season to staff the pool.

Hedine said it is often challenging for seasonally operated pools to find experienced aquatics directors.

“The Milton-Freewater aquatics services program will be overseen by the YMCA’s Erika Miller, who holds American Red Cross certifications as a lifeguard, lifeguard instructor, lifeguard instructor trainer, water safety instructor, water safety instructor trainer and aquatic facility operator,” she said.

Miller and YMCA Associate Director Daniel Rose, who holds many of the same certifications, will oversee the lifeguard and swim instructor programs in Milton-Freewater, Hedine said.

The YMCA would supply all the lifeguards needed to operate the pool seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., from mid-May through the end of September, according to Milton-Freewater city documents.

The pool will be able to be open more days of the season and offer more lessons, programs and special classes.

“The staff at the Y are experts at training and retaining aquatic center staff and their knowledge and expertise would be extremely valuable to us,” city staff said.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers the cities of Walla Walla and College Place as well as agriculture and the environment in the Walla Walla Valley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and joined the Union-Bulletin's team in October 2019.