Tech could help keep city pools open longer, avoid chlorine-related shutdowns

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- You wouldn't think it in the middle of January, but Austin's Parks and Recreation Department's Aquatics Division is running on all cylinders to prep for the summer season. Sunday marks the first hiring date for the season.

"This, believe it or not, is one of the busiest times for our division," said Jodi Jay, division manager.

Last year, critical maintenance issues forced two pools to shut down. Over the last several months, there's been controversy at City Hall whether to prevent others at risk from a similar fate.

Parks & Rec is now asking city council to approve $300,000 in funding, plus a $9,000 annual fee for technology that would allow the Aquatics Division to test chemical levels at city pools remotely. The idea is to keep neighborhood pools up and running longer this summer.

"I've been swimming for 42 years here, ever since I came to Austin," Helga Roper told KXAN, understanding the value pools brings to the community.

But she said she can't understand why Parks and Rec would spend that kind of money in that way.

"I think it's another $300,000 thrown out of the window," she said. "You can't replace people through machines, because in the end you still have to go put something in the water to bring the water quality back up where it needs to be."

Others, like parent Javier Gomez, says a move to remotely test just makes sense. "Technology help us [become] very efficient, [in] a lot of the processes for maintenance."

The city says what slows it down is having to respond to different pools once problems occur.

"Our infrastructure is one that is in need and currently our Aquatics Division has repairs we have to focus on to keep these facilities running," Jay said. "So how this relates to you at home is, you might get your kids dressed and ready to go and you know how much work that is - sunscreen and noodles and everything -- and you get to the pool and the lifeguard says I'm sorry the pool's closed and it's a disappointment for everybody."

The city says this piece of technology will reduce the downtime due to chlorine-related issues.

"We can remotely monitor the system, receive alerts on our tablets and cell phones that say 'hey, our chlorine levels are dropping' at a specific pool and we can make the required adjustments to keep that pool operational from another location," Jay said.

Council would have to approve the expense and it's not clear where the money would come from. 

The city will still need help manning these pools with 700 lifeguards it hopes to hire before summer. Pool attendants will earn $12/hr. All other positions will have a starting pay of $13.84 an hour.

Aquatic Hiring Day

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018

Aquatics Administration & Training Center

2818 San Gabriel Street Austin, Texas 78705

12:00 - 4 p.m.

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