Swimmers will know at a glance this summer if Willmar's Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center is open or closed. If they see a green flag flying, the pool is open. If they see a red flag flying, the pool is closed. If they see a yellow flag, the pool may close early. The flag system is among changes made this year to answer commonly asked questions as the pool prepares to open on Wednesday, says LeAnne Freeman, recreation supervisor for Willmar Community Education and Recreation, the department that runs the pool and the city's other two water attractions.
"If parents or families are driving up, right away it's a visual for them to see what it is,'' says Freeman.
The changes are published in a new handbook of policies and rules for the pool, Robbins Island Beach, and Rice Park Wading Pool.
A new rule authorizes managers and head lifeguards to close the aquatic center if the air temperature is 68 degrees or cooler. On days when the weather is not conducive to swimming, staff will close early if attendance is poor.
Generally, if attendance drops below 10 guests, the staff will announce that the pool will close in 30 minutes if more swimmers don't show up. These attendance figures do not automatically cause the pool to close in 30 minutes, but give the manager and head lifeguards an opportunity to close based on factors such as the time of day or the weather.
Another new rule requires children 12 years of age and younger be supervised by a responsible person, 16 years of age or older. The minimum age was increased from 9 years. Freeman said the increase was not a random decision.
"It came through a lot of thought throughout the winter, a lot of research what other aquatic centers across the country are doing, and also what the lifeguards are seeing here,'' said Freeman.
"We've had to do a few rescues on 9-year-olds and they couldn't give us complete information as far as notifying parents, what is the phone number, address, some situations like that. It's a scary thing for children and for the community at large,'' she said.
"This way we're hoping that this will help us out here because as I tell people, we're really not a babysitting service. Our lifeguards are out here for the safety of all patrons that visit the facility.''
This year, staff will enforce the rule that prohibits patrons from bringing food and coolers into the building and inside the pool's fenced-in area. Picnic tables are provided on the grounds outside the fence for people who bring food and beverages.
Concessions, which provide pool income, are available.
The pool is beginning its sixth year of operation. Last year, about 15,000 people passed through the doors. Freeman urges everyone to check out the pool's special events listed in the handbook and on the website.
"We want people to come out. We want them to enjoy themselves and keep coming back to the pool,'' said Freeman. "We've got a great staff of head lifeguards, lifeguards and managers out here to help people and answer questions and do their best to make sure people are having fun and enjoying themselves.''