By Shira Frager and Antonia Morales
Queens residents flocked to Fort Totten’s public pool Friday and got a reprieve from the unbearable heat wave, thanks to a decision by the city to keep it open when funds were restored in the 11th hour.
The pool, a 10-acre section of Fort Totten Park, was one of four parks set for closure July 1 due to city Parks Department budget cuts and low attendanceï»¿.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Kevin O’Brien, who uses the pool twice a week. “They all decided to stay open.”
Before the pool was saved, many people were concerned that they would no longer be able to swim at the Fort Totten facility or take advantage of its programs.
“We came almost every day last year,” said Bay Terrace resident Michelle Taubenfeld, whose son, Sebastian, attends swimming classes at the pool. “We called for swim lessons. That’s how we found out. We kept our fingers crossed up until the last minute.”
Laura Wilkes, who lives in Flushing, had been concerned about what she would do with her children for the remaining days of summer when she heard the pool would not longer be open.
“I thought it was going to close up until a couple of days ago,” said Wilkes. “Kids took lessons here. We came here almost every day last summer.”
Clearly losing access to the only open air pool in northeast Queens would cause disappointment and an inconvenience for many in the surrounding community who would be forced to find new places to escape the summer heat.
O’Brien said if the park had closed, he would have gone to the public pool in Astoria.
Residents appreciate the pool at Fort Totten not only because it is free, but also because it is convenient and well-maintained.
“We like it because it’s very clean,” said Neriet Gomez of Douglaston, whose three children attend swimming lessons at the facility. “We enjoy it. We live very near.”
Taubenfeld agreed, acknowledging the experienced staff and the upkeep of the pool area. Although Wilkes noted the staff’s strict standards and their being intolerant of disorder of any kind, she said it “keeps people in check.”
Located along the Cross Island Parkway by Totten Avenue and 15th Road, the park contains several facilities and programs for the community, including canoeing, touring, sightseeing, bird watching and soccer fields.
The area, used by the city Fire Department, St. John’s University, the Bayside Historical Society and Queens Theatre in the Park, was formerly a military base. After almost 20 years of community lobbying efforts for a new Bayside area park, the city and Parks accepted the gift of 10 acres of surplus Fort Totten land from the U.S. Department of Defense.
More information about the park and upcoming events, visit nycgovparks.org/parks/forttotten.