By Madina Toure
Although the Spa Castle in College Point has reopened following an incident in which a girl nearly drowned in one of its pools, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is renewing pressure on the city to create a task force that would assess and monitor such establishments.
On its Facebook page, Spa Castle, located at 131-10 11th Ave., announced April 22 all its pools would be reopening the next day and supervised by lifeguards.
Angela Pruitt, a spokeswoman for Spa Castle, said the company has worked with the city Health Department for many months and endured a closure that put 150 employees out of work “at enormous cost to their families.”
“We have agreed to abide by higher-level safety standards that normally apply only to swimming pools, including the stationing of fully qualified lifeguards,” Pruitt said. “To our knowledge, these standards have been applied to no other similar spa facilities in the city of New York. We welcome all efforts to improve safety and will continue to provide a destination that our guests can rely on. We ask only that such safety measures be applied fairly and across the board.”
In March, the Health Department ordered the spa to close all of its pools after a 6-year-old girl almost drowned in February.
The Health Department found the facility was out of compliance with its safety plan and there was excessive suction by a water-return feature that was enough to draw the victim toward it and keep her underwater.
In December 2014, Forest Hills resident Hock Ma, 80, died of natural causes after he was discovered unconscious in a jacuzzi at the spa.
A Health Department spokesman said Spa Castle was given permission to reopen April 22 after meeting certain conditions.
“Since the Health Department closed the pools at Spa Castle in February, the establishment has undergone a rigorous process to correct violations and has met our requirement to implement a new safety plan,” the spokesman said. “The Health Department has also required Spa Castle to sign an agreement that will allow us to intervene swiftly, if the establishment fails to comply with our safety requirements.”
To reopen Spa Castle had to submit a revised and updated safety plan, correct its violations, provide a proof of certification and train staff in the new safety plan, demonstrate sufficient staffing levels, pass a full inspection and adhere to Health Code engineering requirements, the spokesman said.
The spokesman also said the spa’s Manhattan location is open and that no violations were found during the most recent inspection conducted Jan. 25.
Avella said the task force would be made up of relevant city agencies.
“The Health Department did shut them down, has come up with protocols, which is nice, but we cannot trust Spa Castle to self-monitor itself because they’ve been shown to consistently violate the regulations,” he said.
The senator said he has been asking for the task force to be created for the past two years but has yet to receive a response from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“It just boggles the mind that Mayor de Blasio doesn’t seem to care,” Avella said.
In March, Spa Castle CEO Steve Chon wrote a letter to the spa’s guests noting that the spa was instituting a series of improved policies and procedures, including adjusting opening hours to 8 a.m. from 6 a.m., strengthening enforcement of the zero-tolerance policy on intoxication and increasing surveillance of the spa pool areas with more staffing.
He also said the spa was making a handful of upgrades to the facility’s infrastructure and that most of the facility would be complete and ready to open by March 16.
(adding statement from spa owner)
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour