Naperville's Centennial Beach

By Clare, Jini Leeds | Parks & Recreation, July 1993 | Go to article overview

Naperville's Centennial Beach


Clare, Jini Leeds, Parks & Recreation


When Naperville, Illinois, residents purchased a water-filled quarry in the heart of town as a permanent memorial for the city's centennial in 1931, the stage was set for an unusual public "swimming hole." Sixty-two years later, Centennial Beach is still the pride of Naperville--and rated as one of the safest swimming facilities in the United States.

Last year, the Naperville Park District earned the "Platinum Achievement Award" for the beach's consistently high level of safety from Ellis & Associates, an international aquatic-safety consulting firm, and the beach manager, Dick Perry, was named Public Facilities Manager of the Year. Perry was selected over more than 250 managers from swimming facilities across the United States.

When Perry joined the park district eight years ago, he quickly recognized that the unique nature of the swimming park called for unusual strategies to ensure the safety of its users. The six-acre parcel contains the large limestone quarry with two acres of water. One acre is deep water, with a level, slab bottom at 16 feet, and the second acre of water ranges from zero depth to 3 1/2 feet. The shallow water borders a half-acre of sand where children romp freely, build castles and glide on the swings. Adults play sand volleyball there. The remainder of the fence-enclosed area includes a large bathhouse and four acres of grass, trees and picnic tables.

Approximately 2,500 visitors converge on the beach on a typical warm summer day, with 155,000 using the facilities each year. The facilities attract young and old alike, with infants, teens and retired "beach bums" each staking claim to a different section of the landscape.

The water volume, depth and clarity are the most critical elements that the park district must deal with in the old quarry to ensure safety. The beach contains 6.2 million gallons of water which are treated with sodium hypochlorite and muriatic acid to balance the pH. The chemicals are fed in gradually, night and day, as the water is recirculated

Centennial Beach has no filtering system because of the volume of water that would need to be filtered. (Most pools contain about 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of water.) Each spring, the quarry is pumped dry, thoroughly cleaned, and refilled with clear well water. By the end of the season or after a rainy day, however, water clarity may be poor and visibility may be only four to six feet--a sometimes frightening challenge for the lifeguards. The park district recognized these problems, and Perry helped the recreational agency devise a plan to overcome them.

Training is the Key

The main trust of the safety plan is training--including first aid, life-saving, CPR and scuba certification. Seventy-five to 100 teens go through some kind of safety training each year as they prepare for summer jobs at the beach.

Each employee who works at the facility is required to study first aid and CPR, even maintenance crews, cashiers and those who work at the concession stands. According to Perry, "You never know when someone will have a heart attack or choke or have another kind of emergency." First aid and CPR require eight to 12 hours of training each.

In 1992, the park district trained 54 guards in Ellis lifeguarding techniques, including 30 regular guards and 24 substitutes. "We have 12 lifeguard positions, and four more guards are on reserve for breaks," says Perry. "We have 16 here anytime we have the deep water open." Each lifeguard is certified in National Pool and Water Park lifeguarding techniques, designed by Jeff Ellis.

Nine different lifeguarding and rescue skills are taught in the training. Training includes lifeguard professionalism, legal liability in aquatics, people management, drowning and immersion, victim recognition, communication, lifeguards as primary responders, lifeguarding the disabled and physical skills for neck and spinal injuries. …

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