Brunswick closes its outdoor rink for lack of enough workers

Figure skates sliding on the ice. C. Thacher Carter / The Time Record

The Coffin Pond rink in Brunswick will not open this season due to a shortage of workers in the parks and recreation department.

According to Tom Farrell, director of parks and recreation for Brunswick, the department is looking to hire four full-time maintenance workers. This is in addition to two winter seasonal positions, only one of which is filled.

A full complement of the department would consist of 14 full-time positions, seven of which would be maintenance workers. Farrell, who has worked for Brunswick Parks and Recreation for 40 years, said finding employees has been an unprecedented challenge for the department this year.

“Unfortunately, due to our current staffing situation, we have had to reprioritize when we will clean the rinks and maintain the trails,” Farrell said in a statement last week. “After each storm, our highest priority areas will be clearing approximately ten miles of sidewalks surrounding the local school sites as well as the recreation center parking lots and the bike path.”

The department has gone to great lengths to try to advertise vacancies, Farrell said, although few applications are submitted. Examples include promoting the position through social media and news outlets, as well as distributing 1,400 advertisements about the position as part of a flyer in Brunswick schools. The pay range for the position is $16.89 to $19.50 per hour, and also includes paid time off, insurance options, and pension plans.

The rinks in Lishness Park and the city’s shopping center will open as planned, according to the city’s statement, as long as weather and staffing resources permit. Brunswick will also maintain over 4.5 miles of trails within the Kate Furbish Preserve Trail Systems.

Brunswick is not alone in feeling the effects of the labor shortage caused by COVID-19. Nationally, in the third quarter of 2021, there were about 10.7 million job openings, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. During the same quarter in 2019, around 7.1 million opens were reported.

According to Dr. Jason Harkins, associate dean at Maine Business School and associate professor of entrepreneurship, the current shortage is the result of a labor market shock, triggered by COVID-19 and lockdowns, business closures and the large numbers of people leaving the labor market permanently and temporarily that followed.

“The number of jobs available versus the number of people able and willing to work them has changed,” Harkins said.

Now, as companies look for new hires, the worker-company relationship has tilted to better favor workers, Harkins said, allowing potential employees to seek more rewarding, flexible and higher-paying job opportunities.

Access to childcare that can accommodate inconsistent remote learning schedules has also been a barrier to re-entering the workforce, Harkins said, a challenge that particularly affects service-based workers. who cannot point at a distance.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maine’s labor force participation rate in November 2021 was 60.3%. For comparison, in November 2020 the rate was 59.5% and in November 2019 the rate was 62.7%.

The Bath Parks and Recreation Department is made up of 10 full-time positions and up to 20 seasonal positions at various times of the year. During the winter, there are usually several seasonal employees on call, but only one this year.

“From summer to fall we were probably operating at about 50 per cent,” said Steve Baboni, Bath’s director of parks, recreation, forestry and cemeteries. “I have a full-time position open as a City Arborist that has been open for a while, and we just filled a Parks and Cemetery Foreman position that was open.”

Regarding outdoor winter recreation offerings, Baboni said the department maintains the ski slopes at Bath Country Club and maintains an ice rink at Goddard’s Pond. Both will operate as usual this year, although Goddard’s warming hut will not open due to a lack of staff.

Topsham’s parks and recreation division has not felt the effects of the labor shortage due to low turnover among a staff of four, according to department manager Pam Leduc. Topsham operates two ice rinks, toboggan runs and cross-country ski trails.

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