When the General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, closed at the end of 2008, it was a significant blow to the community of roughly 7,000. Approximately 1,000 individuals, along with a number of others employed by ancillary businesses, were out of work. It’s now more than one year later now and even those who weren’t
employed by GM are still feeling the strain. The resulting loss in tax revenue left city leaders with a $5.5 million deficit for fiscal year 2010. As a result, nearly 200 city jobs were cut — and Splash Moraine, the community waterpark, will be closed
for the summer.
Splash Moraine would have celebrated its 10th anniversary this
year. Attractions include a 20,000- square-foot wave pool, several
water slides, a lazy river and a children’s area. Built at a
cost of $3.7 million, average annual attendance was close to
With no aquatics facilities open this year, Director of Parks
and Recreation Dave Miller was forced to lay off his three
full-time aquatics managers. “Two were near the five-year
mark and my aquatics superintendent had been here more than 20
years,” Miller says of the loss.
Of course, Moraine isn’t the only city facing this kind of
situation. As the nation has weathered one of the worst economic
downturns in its history, many other communities are treading the
same waters as Moraine and, as a result, many aquatics
professionals are still struggling to stay afloat.
To find out just how directly those in the industry are being
affected by the recession, we surveyed 811 readers in December
2009. While there’s some good news to report, 67 percent of
respondents say their operations have been directly affected by
budget cuts and, based on other responses, it’s clear that
many are still waiting for economic recovery. Here’s a closer
By the numbers
While 84 percent of respondents report full-time employment, 2
percent say they are unemployed and 10 percent report that they are
Clearly, hiring appears to have slowed. In a 2008 survey of
Aquatics International readers, 11 percent expected the number of
staffers hired for 2009 to decrease compared with 2008. In 2009, 14
percent expect to hire fewer employees for 2010 than in 2009. In
both surveys, the majority (more than 65 percent) expect the number
of staff members to remain the same.
Like Miller, Larry Stanley is not among that 65 percent.
“Budget cuts have impacted our aquatics program a great
deal,” says Stanley, who oversees aquatics at the Gifford
Aquatic Center in Indian River County, Fla. “I had to let my
entire staff go and become seasonal. … I had 13 [full-time]
employees on staff and now I am the only one left. Due to the
budget cuts I can only hire staff to work for six months [to
prevent them from becoming eligible for any benefits].”
When it comes to benefits such as salaries, 30 percent of survey
respondents expect their salaries to increase for fiscal year
2010. The majority (65 percent) expect their salaries to remain the
same, and the other 6 percent expect a decrease in pay.
Based on a comparison of data from the 2008 and 2009 surveys, it
appears expectations remain static for first-year lifeguards. Their
average salary for 2010 remains virtually unchanged. The majority,
approximately 60 percent, are earning between $7 and $8.99 an hour.
Fewer than 10 percent earn less than that, and the other 30 percent
are receiving $9 or more an hour.
Aquatics managers are faring better. Most are earning between
$20 and $26 per hour, and nearly 40 percent of survey respondents
say their salaries increased in 2009. Fewer (almost 30 percent)
expect to see a raise in 2010.
Several factors are likely impacting staffing and salary
decisions at aquatics facilities, says Marcia Calicchia, a faculty
member at the Cornell University ILR School. First, many government
agencies were already strained when the current recession began,
meaning some agencies already were operating on smaller staffing
Organized labor is a second factor.
Though there are no unions specific to aquatics, a significant
portion of the public sector work force is unionized. According to
a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on 2009 data,
more public sector employees (7.9 million) belong to a union than
do private sector employees (7.4 million).
On the job
So what about job satisfaction? For the most part, for survey
respondents, the result has been an increase in stress and
More than half (55 percent) say they are experiencing increased
stress levels due to changes in workloads, perhaps because of fewer
seasonal hires, reduced work hours, or taking on additional job
responsibilities as a result of layoffs.
Prof. Calicchia says that’s typical, particularly among
those in leadership roles. “The effect on the supervisors can
be huge,” she explains. Often the added stress magnifies
weaknesses. For example an already slightly anxious manager faced
with added stress might suddenly begin experiencing trouble
Burnout and concern over how a loss of services will impact the
patrons — children left with no safe place to cool off in the
summer, for example — also may be common.
Dawn Willemsen, aquatics director of The Club at Ricochet in South Plainfield, N.J., is one
aquatics professional who has been feeling the strain. To cut
staffing costs, Willemsen has had to reduce the number of aquatics
classes offered by consolidating some of the smaller groups.
She’s also had to take on more teaching responsibilities
herself, which means less time for management and other duties.
“It’s definitely a lot harder as a manager
now,” she says. “My time has been crunched in every
One factor that’s almost certainly contributing to the
increased stress levels is concern over job security. Nearly 40
percent of survey respondents are feeling greater anxiety over
their own job security, and 46 percent note anxiety among their
David Bucher, recreation supervisor for the city of Tempe,
Ariz., understands that firsthand. Falling sales tax revenue has
left his city with a $30 million shortfall and, as a result, Bucher
says his department may see some “draconian” cutbacks.
Last year nearly 10 positions were eliminated and aquatic services
have been reduced. The city council has yet to approve a budget for
the 2010-11 fiscal year, and Bucher says the anxiety over job
security led one of his full-time employees to consider leaving for
a part-time position with more of a guarantee.
In the end, Bucher says, “all you can do is control what you
can control. I know there will be some semblance of an aquatics
program in the future … and we still have a commitment to
serve and provide a high level of programs and services to the
people who depend on us.”