Limestone repairs indoor pool but lack of lifeguards delays reopening

3 weeks ago

LIMESTONE, Maine – After months of upgrades, the reopening of Limestone Community School’s public swimming pool is still uncertain because of a lack of lifeguards.

Limestone is the only school district north of Bangor with its own swimming pool. At 75 feet by 42 feet, the facility is a “junior Olympic-sized” pool, the largest in Aroostook County, and can hold 145,000 gallons of water. Prior to COVID, the pool was a popular site for local swim meets, including the Carlisle team that included Caribou, Presque Isle and the Limestone-based Maine School of Science and Mathematics.

Though the Carlisle team has disbanded, the pool remained open to the public until January 2023, when corroded plumbing was discovered during warranty work on the pool’s liner. The school had already spent $120,000 in COVID relief funds on a new liner and flooring, but soon realized the 1970-era pool needed a complete overhaul.

The $385,000 overhaul is now complete, but like much of Maine, Limestone is having a hard time finding a labor force willing and qualified to fill the lifeguard jobs needed to let people swim in the pool.

“Just like many other organizations looking for help, there seems to continue to be a lack of workforce,” Limestone Community School Business Manager Chris Kilcollins said. “In the past, we have had some high school lifeguards, but many lifeguards were college students or adults.”

With few people applying for lifeguard positions post COVID, Kilcollins said that the potential reopening date for the pool remains uncertain.

“We’re in the process of hiring lifeguards and anticipate needing six to cover hours of operation,” Kilcollins said.

On Wednesday, the town’s Select Board approved using $20,000 to cover annual lifeguard training and salaries, which the school currently expects to total $19,380 for the remaining fiscal year, which ends June 30. Funds will come from the town’s recreation budget.

Superintendent William Dobbins submitted the school’s pool budget, emergency safety plans and lifeguard training plans to Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin

prior to Wednesday’s Select Board meeting. Lifeguards will need to pass multiple rescue and certification tests, including CPR, before starting work.

The school will need to hire enough lifeguards before finalizing the pool’s opening date and operating hours, Kilcollins said.

The total cost of $385,000 to repair the pool includes $200,000 to replace its heater, filtration systems, automated chemical monitoring system and water storage tank, and $65,000 to renovate the locker rooms, said Kilcollins. 

Grants and donations have covered $315,000 of the total cost, while the town and school contributed a total of $60,000, Kilcollins said.

The school initially hoped to reopen the pool last summer, then in October, but a worker shortage led to delays in manufacturing and shipping of the pool’s parts, including the heater and water tank.

The pool has been filled with water and is currently being stabilized for chemicals and temperature, Kilcollins said. 

Limestone Community School expects the pool’s operations to cost $40,980 annually.

Though Limestone Community School will be operating the pool, the town’s recreation department will use the facility for its programming, said Mulherin.