Parks President proposes free swimming lessons, more lifeguards

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December 11, 2012 by Sarah M

Update: Erwin said funding would only allow for swimming lessons at Nokomis and Wirth, and not Calhoun or Harriet as he had originally hoped.

By Nick Halter

The Minneapolis Park Board would begin offering free swimming lessons at Minneapolis lakes next summer, plus add about 8,000 lifeguard hours across the park system under a late budget amendment that will be offered by Park Board President John Erwin.

In recent years, kids have drowned in Minneapolis lakes because they didn’t know how to swim and because beaches didn’t have lifeguards. Erwin originally wanted to roll out a $225,000 summer camp program that taught kids to swim, fish and cook, but because of budget constraints, is offering a swimming lesson-only proposal.

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Lake Calhoun’s North Beach

“What we recognized is an increasing population of kids in certain places that don’t have an opportunity to get swimming lessons, so we are trying to fulfill that need,” Erwin said.

Under the proposal – which other Park Board commissioners haven’t seen yet —  the Park Board would offer free, late-morning swimming lessons with transportation from recreation centers to Wirth Lake and Lake Nokomis. 

The Park Board would also add $55,000 to the lifeguard budget, which would add about 8,000 lifeguard hours. Erwin said that money would pay for life guards seven days a week at Harriet, Wirth and Nokomis.

The total proposal would cost about $85,000.

The Park Board has increased lifeguard hours dramatically over the past few years. In 2010, the Park Board funded about 11,000 lifeguard hours at beaches and Lupient Water Park. In 2012, that number jumped to 19,092 hours. Under Erwin’s proposal, the lifeguard hours system wide would increase to 27,500.

With the addition of swimming docks in 2011 and 2012, coupled with warm summers, Erwin said beach use has “gone through the roof.”

The Park Board began offering swimming lessons again in 2011 at Nokomis and Lupient, but those lessons come with a fee.

“We want to make sure money is not a barrier to any child learning to swim,” Erwin said.

The Park Board is likely to pass a 3 percent tax levy hike on Wednesday.

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