Wilmette Park District getting sand out of beach security operation
in the swim
Where: Gillson Park swimming beach
What: New security for free area south of swimming beach
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:33PM
A bumpy Memorial Day weekend start to the 2012 Gillson Park beach season has given way to smoother operations, as park district officials got some of the sand out of the new security and safety system they put in place this year for the free beach area south of Gillson.
After a hot, busy inaugural weekend during which staff did have to contend with some unhappy beach patrons, Park District Director Steve Wilson said administrators decided the new system wasn’t working as planned.
“This wasn’t a surprise,” Wilson said. “On paper, everything works perfectly, but you go in knowing that in reality there will be glitches, and you’re going to find out what doesn’t work and why.”
Many Gillson beach-goers didn’t know of the park district’s security changes to more effectively keep swimmers out of the water in the free area, he said, “and they were surprised and unhappy that things they could previously do, or thought they could do, were no longer allowed.”
After the Memorial Day weekend, the district was able to tweak arrangements, aided the next weekend by cooler temperatures that brought out fewer patrons. By last weekend, when temperatures again rose and brought more people out, operations were smoother, Wilson said.
Officials originally had beach employees operating on unrelieved eight-hour shifts, he said. As part of their adjustments, they added some employees at Gillson, allowing some to rotate in and relieve those were dealing with the free beach area.
“We made it so that people wouldn’t constantly be at a position where they would be dealing with potential confrontations, no matter how small those might be,” he said.
This spring, park board commissioners abandoned plans to fence off the area south of the regular swimming beach in an effort to prevent people from swimming where there were no lifeguards, and where they did not pay to use park faciilities.
Acceding to the wishes of many Wilmette residents and other beach users who said the beach shouldn’t be marred with fencing, they instead increased security, allowing people to use the free area and even wade in the lake, but preventing them from swimming there.
In April, staff laid out their tentative plans for the free beach to commissioners. They planned to rely on more viewing chairs, and higher staff levels, including what they hoped would be a number of employees older than the college-age employees that would make up the majority of staffers.
Those older employees would potentially be more capable of commanding beach-goers’ attention, administrators hoped.
However the district wasn’t able to find older people – such as retired teachers – to work the beach shifts, Wilson said: “several of them heard what they might be required to deal with and decided that they did not want to handle those sorts of situations.
“Still, all of our employees are adult, most in their early or mid 20s,” he said. “We’re not talking about high school students having to handle confrontations.”