Philly pools are open for summer — with many offerings for kids

Listen 4:38
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell talks about summer programs at pools in Philadelphia. (Jennifer Lynn/WHYY)

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell talks about summer programs at pools in Philadelphia. (Jennifer Lynn/WHYY)

Summertime heat is no problem if you have access to your local public swimming pool.

Philadelphia has 70 such public pools open this summer, including the newly rebuilt one in Bridesburg. And many of them offer swim lessons that tie in with summer lunch and snack programs.

“Morning Edition” host Jennifer Lynn met up with Kathryn Ott Lovell, the city’s commissioner of Parks and Recreation, at the O’Connor Pool in South Philly to talk about fun in the sun.

Do you swim?

I grew up swimming in our local neighborhood pools and at a local swim club, and my mom was a schoolteacher so she was off in the summer, so we had that great benefit of being able to go swimming almost every day in the summer.

I’m just going to guess that maybe more kids who grew up in the suburbs might have access to swim clubs. But in the city, kids grow up and don’t learn how to swim. What’s up with that?

Yeah, it’s true. I meet so many adults every day who tell me they don’t know how to swim. They never learned how to swim. They grow up with a fear of water or being in the water because they never learned how to swim. And I think it’s sort of heartbreaking here in Philly. We have so many public pools, over 70. The only city that has more is Chicago with 78 pools. You know, with all those pools we think that there should be no barrier for young people to learn how to swim. And adults for that matter. If adults want to come out and take some lessons, they can too. We offer free swim lessons at all of our swimming pools.

There’s a new pool in town. It’s in Bridesburg. I haven’t been to it. We’re sitting at a different pool in South Philadelphia today. Is it state of the art? Does it raise the bar?

Not really. It’s not every day that we build a new swimming pool here in Philly, but the Bridesburg pool was 65 years old. It had outlived its useful life. It’s a pretty standard pool but still beautiful. It’s wonderful to see it reopen and especially in someplace like Bridesburg, where that swimming pool is such a part of the social fabric of that community. Every kid who participates in the Bridesburg summer camp, hundreds of them, all take swim lessons every single morning. That’s required. At the end of the year, they’re one of the few city pools left that still hosts a swim show. You know, a little bit of synchronized swimming and a little bit of crazy, funny acts that the counselors do and the rec leaders do along with the lifeguards and the kids.

Parks and Rec summers are really about health and lifestyle. There are so many opportunities to participate in other activities at the pools.

We’re here today at the O’Connor Pool at 26th and South streets, and this is one of our “Swim Philly” pools, and “Swim Philly” basically just means that we have really created new amenities for the pool user. You’ll see umbrellas and chairs at Philly pools. You’ll see some different artistic paintings done around the pool deck, and you’ll see programming. You know, everything from Aqua Zumba to yoga on the deck, to just music that’s happening throughout the day. So it creates a different atmosphere. We know that a lot of folks in Philly can’t afford to have private swimming pools, or don’t have access to private swim clubs, or aren’t going to get to the Jersey shore every weekend. We really want to provide experiences for them that are above and beyond what they would come to expect living in the city.

And there is a program in the city that offers free summer meals to kids, and that’s just started this week.

It did. It’s something many people don’t realize, that Parks and Rec is the second largest meal provider for young people in the city. We provide over 2 million meals a year, 20,000 meals a day at all of our summer camps, 130 of our summer camps, for 10,000 kids, and then we’re also providing meals for 600 Play Streets, which are streets that are closed temporarily during the day so kids can get out in the street and enjoy themselves and play. And so we’re delivering meals to all of those sites as well.

And the heroes who keep the kids safe, the lifeguards. Are you still looking for lifeguards?

Oh my gosh, Jennifer. Every day! There’s a lifeguard shortage in the country and regionally, and you know it’s so important that we have enough people to staff these pools, and it’s a struggle every year. We have to hire almost 800 people for the summer, that includes lifeguards and pool maintenance attendants. And lifeguards are paid really well in the city of Philadelphia. We are paying more than most other places. Almost $14 an hour that you start at as a lifeguard, and so we really encourage people, especially young people like high school kids and college kids, to make this your summer job. It’s a really wonderful experience. Please check out our website and apply to be a lifeguard.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.