The Seven Lakes Landowners Association [SLLA] Board is poised to eliminate lifeguards at the Northside swimming pool — and remove at least one of the diving boards — in votes scheduled for the January 14 Open Meeting.
Director Bob Racine made motions during the Board’s Thursday, December 17 Work Session to move both proposals to the Open Meeting and won the unanimous support of his fellow Board members.
President Chuck Leach introduced the idea of eliminating lifeguards, arguing that they increase the Association’s liability, are difficult to manage, and reduce the number of hours the pool can be open.
Leach recalled that then-SLLA-President Bob Darr had introduced the idea of eliminating lifeguards four years ago, during Leach’s first year on the Board.
“I voted against it,” Leach said, adding that he was relying on his gut reaction.
Since that time, he has done significant research into the pros and cons, Leach said, speaking with Jon Stone, the President of CAS, Inc. (the SLLA management company), the managers of other CAS communities, and the Association’s insurance broker, as well as studying up on the liability issues.
Lawsuits involving alleged negligence by lifeguards often go against the company or Association that employs them, Leach said, and the awards often exceed the maximum coverage of Association liability insurance policies. The Association’s attorney indicated that in no case has a North Carolina landowners association been found to have a duty to employ lifeguards.
Of the fifty-five CAS communities that have swimming pools, only five employ lifeguards, Leach said.
The Association’s insurance broker indicated that the trend is moving away from having lifeguards.
Leach said SLLA lifeguards are frequently distracted by their cellphones, are late to work, and sometimes don’t show at all. Most are students, and, when they began to return to school in late Summer, it is sometimes impossible to open the pool because there are no lifeguards. It requires thirteen lifeguards to fully man the SLLA pool.
A prime advantage eliminating lifeguards, Leach said, is that it will allow pool hours and the pool season to be extended. He suggested that the pool could be open from May 1 to September 30, operating from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm on some days.
Treasurer Mark Gyure said the pool could be available for 2000 total hours in the season, compared to the current 725 hours.
“We can take this amenity that we recently spent $100,000 to renovate and give residents a way to use it more,” Leach said.
Director Racine reported that the Recreation Committee is split on the issue, with the majority favoring eliminating lifeguards and diving boards, but with one “dissenter” taking the opposite position.
The Recreation Committee discussed having lifeguards from only part of the day, for example, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The Board did not address that option.
[Editor’s note: Nothing in County, State, or Federal regulations prevents such a split schedule. The SLLA Rules and Regulations — which can be changed by a majority vote of the Board — has a single line rule that reads: “9.1.1 There shall be no use of the pool unless a lifeguard is on duty.”]
The elimination of lifeguards is expected to be paired with the installation of a new access system that will allow residents to use a magnetic card or key fob to access the pool. Security cameras would be included. Also anticipated is the use of pool attendants, rather than lifeguards.
As a result, the savings from doing away with lifeguards may be modest, at best, Gyure said.
The Recreation Committee also recommended strictly limiting use of the pool by a child under the age of sixteen unaccompanied by a parent or other adult, designated in writing, as responsible for that child.
Director Mark Widman said that would likely eliminate use of the pool by kids in their middle teen years, who are likely to have both parents working outside the home.
Widman said that once his four sons reached their tenth birthday and were well-trained swimmers, they were allowed to use the Northside pool on their own.
“I don’t think you are going to get a parent down here with a fifteen year old,” he added, suggesting that teens would use the lakes instead.
Security Director Greg Lishawa noted that having security cameras at the pool while having lifeguards could become a liability, if the cameras capture images of distracted lifeguards.
Lishawa said he would be more comfortable making a decision on the issue with more input from the community, but President Leach appeared to pooh-pooh that idea, suggesting that the research already undertaken by Board members would be unlikely to be superseded by any information to be gained by consulting with the community.
“I don’t think we should get rid of lifeguards because of finances, but we should look at the liability issues,” Director Sandy Sackman said.
After Racine’s motion to move the proposal to eliminate lifeguards to the January 14 Open Meeting was approved, the Board briefly discussed whether to eliminate one or both diving boards — and, if one, which one.
Leach cited a statistic from a 2008 study that found 6,500 children are injured in the US each year in diving-related accidents.
“You read this kind of data, we have to remove those diving boards,” he said.
On a motion from Racine to remove the higher of the two boards for the 2016 swim season, the Board voted unanimously to move the question to the January 14 Open Meeting.