This article was originally published by THE CITY on November 21 at 4:41 am EDT
Nearly three years after the Flushing Meadows Corona Aquatic Center’s Olympic-size pool was closed for “at least six weeks” for an emergency roof repair, it remains closed to the public as the Department of Parks and Recreation struggles to repair its unique movable floor.
Parks said in a city council hearing last December that the pool at the 14-year-old, $67 million facility built as part of New York City’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics will remain open until January or would reopen February 2022. The emergency roof repairs were completed in July 2021, the pool remains closed, and the department’s site now reports the closure is “due to necessary repairs to the movable floor,” which is said to move up and down , to allow both diving and swimming.
Swirling machine sounds echoed from the direction of the pool as THE CITY visited the center on Tuesday when a father rushed over looking for a swim meetup for his two children who were waiting in the car – only to be told he was in the wrong place .
“This part of the building is closed, so we have this thing,” Ashley Bernal, the facility’s assistant director, told THE CITY as she pointed to a black belt cordoning off part of the chlorine-smelling lobby.
Construction work on the ground began in September this year. However, the Parks Department’s capital project tracker shows that the $500,000 repair is marked as 0% complete.
Park spokesman Dan Kastanis told THE CITY the department plans to reopen the pool around January 2023 before returning for a full reconstruction of the roof along with the HVAC and dehumidification systems for April 12 to 18 beginning in the summer of 2024 months will be closed. In the meantime, the safety net installed on the ceiling in early 2020 would remain in place to contain concrete detachments from the roof.
Repair of the moveable floor has been slow, a source familiar with the project said, because it is a custom item not found at any other park-operated water facility and requires special materials that are not commonly available. The parts are expected to arrive in December and be installed shortly thereafter, the source said.
Meanwhile, Queens swimmers who rely on Parks’ pools were left high and dry as the outdoor pools were closed for the winter season and the only other indoor pool in the district — a much smaller one at the Roy Wilkins Recreation Center in St. Albans – also closed for maintenance since late September.
“We are committed to reopening this beloved facility to the community,” Kastanis told THE CITY of the Aquatic Center. “We never close facilities unless absolutely necessary and these repairs are essential – they must be carried out to ensure everyone’s safety for future use.”
high and dry
Pool users who have been locked out for almost three years have run out of patience.
“It is sad that this pool is still closed [the] turning the wheels of bureaucracy. Our kids, seniors, and the rest of us need somewhere to swim and exercise,” according to a one-star Google review of the Aquatic Center by User Line Push.
“This is our pool and we want it to be reopened because if left unopened it will decay and then never be reopened,” read another one-star review from user The Marclan.
While Parks currently has no indoor pools for the Queens public to use, Manhattan has five, all south of 61st Street, while a sixth at the Hansborough Recreation Center on West 134th Street has been closed for repairs since May 2019.
“I think that accurately reflects the level of inequality here and the issues that we’re talking about,” said Councilor Shekar Krishnan (D-Jackson Heights), who chairs the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee and Jackson Heights and Elmhurst represents .
He added that access to the pool is “fundamentally a matter of racial justice” and that the Flushing pool is widely used and loved by Queens’ immigrant communities.
“The fact that we didn’t open our water centers here in Queens while those in Manhattan are open underscores the fundamental inequality of access that needs to be addressed by our city,” he said.
Shawn Slevin, founder of nonprofit water safety and education organization Swim Strong, called the city a “water wasteland,” adding that maintenance was going on intermittently, even when her organization offered swimming lessons at the water center before it closed its doors.
The need for pool access is increasing, she said, as climate change makes swimming and water safety skills more important. Climate catastrophes and the city’s rising shorelines, she added, have caused and will continue to cause many water-related tragedies — often along immigrant and communities of color.
“I’m frustrated. I’m angry because New York City is a water city and yet we don’t have the infrastructure,” Slevin said. “As a water city, how do you expect us to prepare our citizens for what what exists today – let alone what is to come tomorrow?”
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