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Berkshire Hill Country Club is asking to increase the ratio of lifeguards to patrons when it reopens its pool next year.

Berkshire Hills Eyes Lifeguard Variance for 2025

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Hills County Club is seeking a variance on its pool permit to allow for cost savings on staff members starting next year, including fewer lifeguards. 

The club seeks to increase the patron-to-lifeguard ratio from 25:1 to 40:1, though the 50-person pool capacity will remain and there will always be two guards on watch. The Board of Health on Wednesday seemed approving of the idea, though a vote was not taken. 

Berkshire Hills board member Sheila Labarbera explained that they are looking for some relief from the rotation of employees required on-site with a potential cost savings of more than $50,000 annually. The pool has been operating at a loss for the last couple of years.

"Next year is the 100th anniversary for Berkshire Hills," she said. "So we would like everything from the pool and the clubhouse to the golf course to reflect that it's 100 years and we're still here and would like to be for another hundred."

The pool is closed this year for renovations and the owners would like to apply for their 2025 permit with the ratio change.

Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said the club has a history of being diligent and that the board has the authority to grant the variance as it sees fit.

"I think it's appropriate for the board to discuss this. It's discussing the amount of lifeguards that are going to be allowed for the permit. There are many pools throughout the city that do not have lifeguards because they are not heavily attended such as the condo pools that you know, it's semi-public," he said.

"Then there's also pools such as the permit holders, that is the Berkshire Hills Country Club, that are heavily attended. We have routinely gone with a number that has been suggested in the guidelines as (25:1) so in speaking with the permit holder, I'm definitely open to the discussion."

Labarbera said they are looking to maintain the safest environment for the pool and are not trying to cut that corner, "however, what ultimately we are trying to look for is to create a viable and stable long-term financial plan for the pool operations."

"As everyone is aware, after COVID the cost of operating the pool has multiplied significantly, just the chemical costs and things of that nature," she said. "Like I said, this is part of our viability plan for the long-term use of the pool."

The capacity of the pool area is 125 people and the pool itself is 50. The pool has a 300 square-foot deep end, 2,000 square feet that is between 3 and 5 feet, and a 1,800-square-foot non-swimmer shallow area.

"There's always two guards on duty at any time but with 125 as our capacity, our current ratio is 25 to one so at any given time, we can have up to five or six guards on duty in the area. We only have two on duty for the pool," Labarbera said.

"We reach capacity sometimes on the weekends. Last year was kind of a tough year to evaluate because we really only had about three weekends — one of them was Labor Day — that we reached that 121, 124 capacity in the area but having to staff for a capacity of 125 at a ratio of 25 to one, that puts it between five or six guards so that any given hour I have four guards that are sitting in the shade. Literally."

Guards are on the chair for 20 minutes and then get a break for 20 minutes so the pool would need a minimum of three to four on duty.

Berkshire Hills has contracted with the YMCA for lifeguards for about a decade but wants to return to internal staffing with certification through the Boy Scouts of America to hire its own guards.

This would allow the opportunity to cross-train lifeguards for other jobs at the pool.

"The guards that are contracted are contracted only to be guards. They're not contracted to do anything else on site,"  Labarbera said.

"So when they become our employees, as the way they always were when I grew up and was a member of the pool, the guards could help check in and do some things of that nature."

There would probably be three guards on duty, two for the pool and one for rotation, but if the guards are cross-trained there could be four or five on-site helping with things like the front desk.

"Unfortunately this request is kind of a big one where I know we're not open for the 2024 season and to kind of put it forth to you tonight to consider that ratio change because it does have a significant impact. The pool at Berkshire Hills, while it is an amenity really for the golfers it's always been part of the country club at Berkshire Hills," Labarbera added.

"We have a limited number of actual members who are just pool members but the pool is basically there mostly for the golfers and their families. With this proposal, it would help us to provide potentially a more viable long-term financial plan for the pool. We cannot continue to operate the pool at a loss and that's what we've done for like the last two years."

She emphasized that the pool is fully insured and will not be allowed to do anything unsafe, explaining that it is not the intention at any time to have a pool with no guards because their insurance company won't allow it.

"The other thing is we still have to provide a safe environment for our members but it is not open to the public," she said. "It is by membership only."

The biggest issue that the club faces with the insurance company is its deep end and the shape of the pool.

Tags: board of health,   pool,   

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Letter: Berkshire State Delegation Needed to Pass Ban on Puppy Mills

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The public may be aware that I spear-headed local legislation in Pittsfield and Lenox banning the sale of puppies from puppy mills at pet stores. Berkshire Voters for Animals and the Massachusetts Humane Society were strong advocates and helped immensely.

I have received an email from Berkshire Voters for Animals stating, "There is still one of our bills in its original committee that needs to be released by June 14th or it will not have a chance to be passed this session. Time is running out for Massachusetts lawmakers to advance legislation that will prevent commercial dog breeders (puppy mills) from trucking cruelly bred puppies into pet shops. New York, Maryland and California have successfully passed similar laws. Massachusetts should be next!"

The appeal was that "We need you to contact your rep to ask them to contact the House Chair of the Environment Committee to release the bill."

It is my hope that the bill makes it out of committee and not die there, as too many good pieces of proposed legislation often does. I cannot stress how popular these initiatives were. In Pittsfield, I have had ordinances pass that took literally as much as one-half a decade to get passed. No so with this. Dozens upon dozens showed up in support for the ordinance. The Pittsfield City Council passed it immediately, with no debate.

Lenox has an open town meeting where any town resident can show up and vote, and of the dozens upon dozens of people that attended (it may have been over 100, but I am not a good judge of audience size), not a single one voted against the legislation when put to a final vote. In fact, that vote was almost instantaneous.

According to the letter, Sen. Paul Mark and he has spoken with the Senate chair. I respectfully request Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Rep. John Barrett, and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, excellent legislators of the Berkshire Delegation of whom I am fond of, to help pass S.550/H. 826/S. 549, "An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops" before the 2024 legislative session ends. This salutary law is enjoys widespread and practically unanimous support from the public.

Rinaldo Del Gallo
Pittsfield, Mass.




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