The staff and swimmers at the Vashon Pool, including adult lifeguard Eric Heffelfinger, have hoped for the past several months that the Vashon Park District’s ballot measure to renew its levy will pass. Without it, the district will be forced to close the pool along with its other facilities, putting Heffelfinger, as well as other lifeguards and staff, out of a job.
Every morning at 6:30 a.m., Heffelfinger takes the tarps off the pool and opens it up for the community. With lap swims starting at 7 a.m. and water aerobics Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at 10 a.m., the pool has a regular clientele.
Heffelfinger is an avid swimmer and had been a regular at the pool when he was approached to become a lifeguard.
“It’s an enjoyable job,” Heffelfinger said. “People are in good moods and have a good time.”
Working mornings provides Heffelfinger with time for a swim after his shift, followed by an afternoon in his Burton jewelry studio, where his work can be seen at Gather. He is also the head appraiser for jewelry at Granny’s.
Randy Turner, the pool’s aquatics manager and coach of the Seals Swim Team, appreciates the staff he has assembled.
“There is a consistent crew when people walk in the door and see the same smiling face,” Turner said.
As person after person walked through the door on a recent morning, the friendly environment was certainly apparent as each patron was personally greeted with a smile.
This was not always the case as most of the lifeguards have been high school or college students who return to school in August and September. With the hiring of more adult lifeguards, stability has increased. Turner teaches a lifeguard certification in the spring, with another coming up in 2020, to staff up for the busy summer months. All total, there are 15 lifeguards and a water aerobics instructor employed year-round.
That does not include Derek Hinz, better known as the “maintenance ninja.” Hinz is responsible for the pool’s water quality, clarity and temperature that have earned praise from many of the facility’s patrons.
“It’s a secret recipe,” Hinz smiled. “Like KFC.”
A frequent visitor to the pool, Laura Weston, commented, “The water quality is the best ever.”
“Bar none it is the clearest water in any pool I have used,” said Greg Harrison, a former masters swimmer who has seen his fair share of pools.
In addition to opening the pool all week long — a goal of Turner’s when he began his new role earlier this year – there are other programs in discussion for the year 2020 budget cycle. The pool hosted two week-long camps this past summer for special needs adults and children. Over 60 people at each camp brought in additional revenue streams. With the pool bubble expanding the pool’s use, opportunities for other revenue streams are now year long with new potential programs on the table, including water sports activities.
Elaine Ott-Rocheford, the executive director of the park district, commented that revenue is projected to be slightly down from 2018, though she noted that rates did not increase for user groups this year. The first full year of having the bubble was 2018, with additional operating costs attributed to training more lifeguards, supplies to provide year-round service, more uniforms and equipment. The projected operating costs for the balance of 2019 are $19,223 lower than in 2018.
“Having a steady slate of adult lifeguards has been excellent in helping to reduce training costs and maintain consistency,” Ott-Rocheford said.
Ott-Rocheford and Turner will be developing the 2020 budget and anticipate that there will be no shortfalls.
Rob Luke is in his second year as one of the adult lifeguards. A former diplomat in the US State Department, Luke, a five-year island resident, is impressed with so many community members who volunteer, professionals in architecture and engineering. They volunteer to help with installing the pool bubble and move the slide each year, further controlling operating costs.
“[The slide] is extremely heavy,” Luke said, “and we had volunteers constructing three-dimensional models to make it easier to store close to the pool to reduce the heavy lifting.”
Ott-Rocheford added that the district has been especially pleased by the swim team’s work raising the funds that provided for the addition of the pool bubble for year-long swimming at the community pool.
“It has been a great success all around,” she said.
Swimming at the pool is the only year-long activity for island youth. The facility is open to the public seven days a week.