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Dormont pool patrons favor changes

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Life jackets similar to this one is now the norm for little ones at Dormont Pool Monday, June 2, 2014. Jeff Ellis Management, a Florida company, is running the pool this year.

The Florida company managing the Dormont Pool has been making waves since taking over this spring, but borough council on Monday said the response largely has been positive.

Jeff Ellis Management, which trains lifeguards at Sandcastle, Idlewild and Disney water parks, took a $99,875 contract to handle day-to-day management of the pool, along with the hiring and training of lifeguards, starting when the pool opened on May 24.

Some residents were upset by policy changes the company made, including closing off part of the deep end when there aren't many swimmers. Swimmers shorter than 4 feet, 4 inches must wear life jackets, compared to a previous policy that required them to pass a “deep water test” under a lifeguard's supervision before going into the deep end.

“The pool's been known for its size for years, and I think people are used to utilizing all of that size,” said Christopher Maggio, son of John Maggio, the councilman who cast the only vote against hiring the Ellis company in March.

John Maggio was absent from Monday's meeting and couldn't be reached for comment, but said in a letter to the Tribune-Review that abandoning the traditional deep-water test — which required users to swim across a section of the pool to a lifeguard's satisfaction — would establish “a generation of children who do not know how to swim.”

Ellis said this week that one section of the deep end is roped off when attendance is low, so some lifeguards on duty could switch from watching swimmers to doing required in-service training in closed sections of the pool.

“My kids love the changes,” said Dormont resident Johanna Dickman, 42, visiting the pool Tuesday with her family. “With the life jackets, they can go anywhere, like on the slide.”

Councilman Jeff Fabus pointed to attendance numbers that showed four days since the opening that attracted fewer than 100 people, while Memorial Day brought 1,308 swimmers and warm, sunny weather drew a total 1,485 people on Saturday and Sunday.

Surveys distributed to patrons came back largely positive, with the majority rating the lifeguards' performance as “good” or “excellent,” according to handouts Fabus passed to council and the audience Monday.

“Jeff Ellis Management is a trained, professional company specializing in pool management and safety,” Fabus said. “My primary concern is the safety of everyone going to that pool.”

Joyce Koestner, 44, said she was concerned when she heard that there were fewer lifeguards on staff, although she noted staff members were helpful.

“The managers are very friendly. It's always, ‘What can I do for you, what can I do for you?' ” she said.

Ellis said the pool is being more efficient, using about half the lifeguard staff that it did under municipal management. Lifeguards are on-duty, watching swimmers or doing other tasks, during their shifts, rather than switching from being on- and off-duty several times during a shift, he said.

“The old staffing model was that they would have the same number of people scheduled every day, regardless of weather and attendance,” Ellis said.

The company has hired about 26 lifeguards from South Hills communities since the beginning of swimming season in late May, and plans to bring the total to about 40 when more lifeguards “graduate” from training in the next few weeks. The employees will be split depending on need between Dormont and Baldwin Borough, which also hired the Ellis company to run its Elm Leaf Park pool at a cost of $56,000.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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