Salt Spring Island’s pool and preschool offerings are being cut back temporarily as the Capital Regional District (CRD) works to find qualified staff.
Dan Ovington, manager of the CRD’s parks and recreation department on Salt Spring, said pool hours have been cut back and the Heron’s Nest Preschool has closed as the organization feels the effect of island-wide staffing shortages.
Unable to find qualified staff to run the Heron’s Nest preschool, it was closed for the spring with 30 students affected. The closure further narrows the early childhood care options offered on the island, following last fall’s closure of Tree Frog Daycare with space for 20 children including infants and toddlers.
“It’s a little bit different than a daycare in that it’s a half-day recreation-based preschool,” Ovington explained about Heron’s Nest. “So for people looking for full-day childcare, that’s not the place for them. But a lot of the kids are obviously missing the interactions with the other kids and instructors and I’m sure the parents are missing the break.”
The department is actively recruiting an early childhood educator with the hopes of opening again in the fall.
The Rainbow Road Aquatic Centre also has reduced hours due to a lack of aquatic staff and workers in other departments. While Ovington said training new local lifeguards is happening, shortages of lifeguards across the Greater Victoria region are a reality given training and recertification being paused during the nearly two-year-long pandemic period. The shortages mean drop-in swimming offerings will go from 75 hours to 41.5 per week, and from seven days down to five.
Changes to the pool schedule include closing all day Sunday and operating reduced hours on Monday from 7:45 to 10:45 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closing Mondays, Ovington noted, will allow the facility to stay open on Saturdays, which are busy with lessons and public swims. People no longer have to pre-register for drop-in swims or aquafit, yet pool users 12 years and older have to show proof of vaccination to access the facilities.
In a policy made public in the fall, the CRD required all of its around 1,100 staff plus volunteers to show proof of vaccination by Dec. 13 or face employment consequences.
The policy has since changed, CRD communications manager Andy Orr confirmed, and the few staff who are unvaccinated can keep working as long as they get tested twice a week at the CRD’s expense. The other option is for staff to be placed on a temporary leave of absence while they get fully vaccinated. Orr confirmed that 98 per cent of CRD staff are vaccinated and “the balance have been accommodated with respect to medical or human rights considerations such as religious grounds.”
Public health orders asking people to stay home if they feel sick have led to some pool, fitness and recreational services being reduced or suspended when staff are ill, Orr confirmed, yet the CRD has also seen reduced service demand during the pandemic.
The CRD has continued to provide its critical and essential services at normal levels of operation, Orr noted, including “wastewater collection and treatment, water supply and distribution, waste management, parks maintenance, building inspection and other critical functions such as regulatory compliance.”
Ovington said the department is actively recruiting, having people work overtime and cross training them to help cover shifts.
“We are hoping that in the spring, we can expand some of the pool operating hours,” Ovington said, as new lifeguards get trained up.
The CRD is just one of the organizations serving Salt Spring to have implemented employee vaccine mandates, policies which may have an effect on staffing alongside the effects of seasonal and COVID-19 virus spread and the lack of workforce housing.
Several BC Ferries sailings on all routes to Salt Spring have been delayed and cancelled over the past month due to crewing challenges. How much of the problem is due to the ferry service’s vaccine mandate is not clear. All onboard ferry staff needed to be vaccinated as of Jan. 24, and all others as of Feb. 28. BC Ferries said only around one per cent, or 50, of their circa 5,000 employees have indicated they are not vaccinated, ferry workers union president Eric McNeely said last month that 100 to 200 staff have asked for accommodation from the mandate for religious, medical or other grounds.