By Phil Corso
Residents of northeast Queens were hot with rage after learning they might lose their own free public pool unless the City Council can find the funding to keep it afloat.
The city Parks commissioner testified in a Council hearing May 30 that an additional $1.5 million was needed to keep four city pools open this year, including the one at Fort Totten. If the money is not restored into the budget, the Parks Department would be forced to close the Bayside pool along with Wagner Pool in Manhattan, Howard Pool in Brooklyn and Faber Pool in Staten Island.
Pool season will also be shortened by two weeks for all city facilities, Parks said, if the money is not there.
“Our decision was based on several factors, including attendance figures, proximity to other pools, access to public transit and the location of the pools relative to residential communities,” a Parks spokesman said.
The same pools were put on the chopping block last year, but the Council ultimately restored funding after negotiating with the mayor’s office.
So despite the latest chapter in the saga, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said she was still confident in the government’s ability to find the money and keep the pools open this year. She said the Council had gone through this process before and would work to make sure the pools were not shuttered.
“As we have done for the last three years, the New York City Council fully expects to find the funds necessary to ensure that all of New York City’s families are able to enjoy a full season at all of the city’s pools again this year,” she said.
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said northeast Queens was being used as a pawn in the Parks Department’s own strategy as it sifts through the budget proposal process.
“As the only free pool in northeast Queens, the Fort Totten pool is a tremendous resource to our community, and as such the Parks Department should not annually propose its closure as a budget negotiating tactic,” Braunstein said. “Closing the pool would be an insult to the taxpayers of northeast Queens.”
Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said he and his neighbors relied on the pool in the summer months as a means of keeping cool without the costs of joining a private club.
“Closure of the Fort Totten pool, the only free public pool in northeast Queens, would prevent children, senior citizens, families and others from escaping summer’s heat in what has become a valuable community facility,” Schreiber said. “The only other option would be a private pool that can cost up to $2,000 for the season.”
Pool season begins June 27 and typically runs through Labor Day, Parks said.
The Bloomberg administration will continue to negotiate with the Parks Department and Council to see if funding can be secured, Parks said.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.