This may be the last year for the diving board and lifeguards at the Seven Lakes North swimming pool.

The Seven Lakes Landowners Association [SLLA] Board of Directors discussed whether to discontinue lifeguard service, effective with the 2016 swim season, during their regular Thursday, May 14 work session.

Community manager Ray Sohl argued forcefully for the elimination of lifeguards, based primarily on his contention that having lifeguards subjects the Association to more liability risk than not having them. Sohl also argued that the diving board poses an increased risk of injury and increased liability for the Association.

In the Work Session Meeting packet, Sohl shared the "Community Manager’s comments & concerns:

1. Diving boards: Perhaps one of the biggest risks at the pool can be the diving board, which can cause severe injury and even death. According to a study by Columbus, an Ohio-based national children’s hospital, more than 6,500 children and teens are treated for diving related injuries every year.

2. Wading pool: The line of sight issues for lifeguards poses a safety concern. The lifeguard stand is across the pool and too far for prompt responses.

3. Lifeguard staff levels: Maintaining adequate swimmer to lifeguard ratios throughout the season is difficult. Lifeguard turnover rates are high, particularly at the end of the season. Not having staff levels as recommended in the Red Cross Lifeguard Manual puts both patrons and lifeguards at risk.

Sohl said the SLLA office had surveyed 40 area swimming pools and found only five have lifeguards. He noted that, of 55 CAS-managed properties with pools, only five have lifeguards. He added that the Association's insurance broker has also mentioned the trend of communities eliminating lifeguards.

The Association has $24,000 budgeted for lifeguards this year. Sohl estimated that running the pool with only one attendant would cost $9,000.

Recreation Director Mary Farley said her committee had unanimously voted to keep lifeguards for this swim season, "Because we have so many children coming to the pool . . . . We feel a lot better and safer for our children to keep the lifeguards."

"If you all decide you want to change your mind for next year, then that's another story," Farley said.


More liability risk with lifeguards

Sohl asserted that the presence of a lifeguard actually increases the Association's liability, because of the possibility that a court or jury might find that the lifeguard had not carried out their duties appropriately in dealing with an incident.

"Your level of exposure increases substantially if you have an occurrence where there is negligence on the part of a lifeguard," he said. "Huge exposure. And, if you have a swim at your own risk pool, you don't have that level of exposure.

Given Sohl's emphasis on liability, resident Bob Miller asked whether eliminating lifeguards would reduce the Association's insurance premiums. 

Sohl replied that it would not.

He added that some swimming pool drowning suits in the past few years had resulted in judgements of $18 million - $20 million, "which would exceed your umbrella coverage."

Sohl said it is difficult to hire and keep quality lifeguards. "During the past two years, the pool manager was on the verge of resigning," he added.

Assistant Manager Leslie Hosterman said the number of hours the pool can be open is limited by the availability of lifeguards. "We have a lot of people who would like to swim in the early mornings but can't because there are no lifeguards," she said.

However, that limitation is based on SLLA rules and regulations, not on North Carolina General Statutes or County ordinances. Sohl noted that the Board could change that rule, though he would recommend against it.

Director Greg Lishawa noted that the swimming pools at major hotel chains have no lifeguards. Both Mark Gyure and Sandy Sackmann recounted incidents in which having a lifeguard on hand proved of limited value.


Diving board nearly eliminated

Sackmann made a motion to remove the diving board before the upcoming swim season begins, and Director Bob Racine seconded it. But, in discussion, the Board determined that the Recreation Committee would not have time to review the recommendation before swim season began.

Director Joy Smith suggested in might be best to consider eliminating the lifeguards and diving board at the same time.

"It would be good that it goes out through the newspaper that we are discussing this," Gyure added.

The Board took no further action on eliminating lifeguards and the diving board and gave no indication of when the matter might again appear on a Work Session agenda.

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