Park Board to begin offering free swimming lessons, plus boost lifeguard hours

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plans to begin offering free swimming lessons in 2013 and add more lifeguards to city beaches under an 11th hour budget addition from 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.

“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.

The Park Board plans to offer free, late-morning swimming lessons with transportation from recreation centers to Wirth Lake and Lake Nokomis. Erwin had originally proposed adding lessons to Harriet or Calhoun, but said budget constraints and inadequate storage facilities wouldn’t allow for lessons at one of those lakes. Kids from Southwest will still be able to take lessons at Nokomis or Wirth, Erwin said.

The Park Board also added $68,000 to the lifeguard budget, which adds about 8,000 lifeguard hours. Erwin said that the money would staff lifeguards seven days a week at Harriet, Wirth and Nokomis.

The lessons and lifeguards together will cost about $92,000.

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. Now, the lifeguard hours system should 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.

 

Budget passes with 3 percent hike

As was expected, Park Board commissioners on Dec. 12 approved a 3 percent tax levy hike. The tax levy passed on a 7-2 vote, with Anita Tabb (District 4) and Bob Finn (at-large) voting against the hike.

In addition to adding free swimming lessons and lifeguards, the 3 percent levy increase also maintains recreation center hours across the city, plants 5,000 trees, adds $300,000 for parkway paving, continues aquatic invasive species inspections and increases staffing for the Night Owls program.

The 2013 tax levy will be $48.6 million, up from $47.2 million in 2012.

Dog Park under construction

Crews in early December began construction on an off-leash dog area at Lyndale Farmstead Park.

Park Board officials said they hope to be able to open the park temporarily this winter —before construction is completed — and then to complete all necessary work in the spring.

Warm weather delaying ice rink openings again

It’s déjà vu. Just like last winter, the Minneapolis Park Board has been unable to get its ice rinks open before the holidays due to warm weather.

Crews need 10 consecutive days of around-the-clock temperatures below 20 degrees to create ice rinks, according to a Park Board press release.

Once that happens, the city will be able to open 46 ice rinks at 22 locations in the city. Most are scheduled to close Feb. 18, but some – Bohanon Park, Lake of the Isles, McRae Park and Van Cleve Park — are schedule to stay open through March 3. 

The Park Board has a goal of opening the rinks before the holidays, but on Dec. 17 had lowered that goal to have at least a few rinks open by the end of December.

Go to minneapolisparks.org to check the status of rinks. You can also sign up for e-mail updates on the rinks.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]