$67 Million Flushing Aquatic Center Still Closed Months After Emergency Roof Repair (Author: Haidee Chu, The City)Shawn Slevin
$67 Million Flushing Aquatic Center Still Closed Months After Emergency Roof Repair
Haidee Chu, The City
Nearly three years after the Flushing Meadows Corona Aquatic Center’s Olympic-caliber pool closed for what was supposed to be “at least six weeks” for an emergency roof repair, it remains off limits to the public as the Department of Parks and Recreation struggles to repair its unique movable floor.
Parks said in a City Council oversight 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 — would reopen by January or February 2022. But while the emergency roof repair was completed in July 2021, the pool remains closed with the Department’s site now reporting that the closure is “due to needed repairs to the movable floor” that’s designed to move up and down to accommodate diving as well as swimming.
Whirling machine sounds reverberated from the direction of the pool when THE CITY visited the center on Tuesday as a father rushed in looking for a swim meet for his two children waiting in the car — only to be told he was at the wrong location.
“This part of the building is closed, that’s why we have this thing here,” Ashley Bernal, the facility’s deputy director, told THE CITY as she pointed to a black belt cordoning off a section of the chlorine-scented lobby.
Construction work on the floor began this September. Yet the Parks Department capital project tracker shows the $500,000 fix marked as “0% complete.”
Parks Spokesperson Dan Kastanis told THE CITY the department plans to reopen the pool around January 2023, before closing it again for 12 to 18 months starting in the summer of 2024 for a complete reconstruction of its roof along with its HVAC and dehumidification systems. In the meantime,
safety netting installed onto the ceiling in early 2020 would remain in place to catch concrete shedding from the roof.
Progress on repairing the movable floor has been slow, one source familiar with the project said, because it’s a custom item that does not exist in any other Parks-run aquatic facility and requires specialized materials that are not widely available. The parts are expected to arrive in December and be installed shortly after, the source said.
In the meantime, Queens swimmers who depend on Parks pools have been left high and dry, with outdoor pools closed for the winter season and the only other indoor pool in the borough — a much smaller one located 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 about the Aquatic Center. “We never close facilities unless absolutely necessary, and these repairs are essential — they must be done to ensure everyone’s safety for future use.”
High and Dry
Pool users locked out for nearly three years are running out of patience.
“It’s sad that this pool is still closed waiting for [the] wheels of bureaucracy to turn. Our kids, seniors and rest of us need a place to swim and exercise,” reads a one-star Google Review of the Aquatic Center from user Line Push.
“This is our pool and we want it reopened because as it sits unopened it’ll decay and then it will never reopen,” another one-star review from user The Marclan reads.
While Parks presently has no indoor pools the public can use in Queens, Manhattan has five, all south of 61st Street, while a sixth, at the Hansborough Recreation Center on West 134 Street, has been closed for repairs since May 2019.
“I think that precisely reflects the scale of the inequity here and the problems that we’re talking about,” said Councilmember Shekar Krishnan (D-Queens), who chairs the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreations and represents Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
He added that pool access is “fundamentally a racial justice issue” and that the Flushing pool is widely used and loved by Queens’ immigrant communities.
“The fact that we don’t have our aquatic centers open here in Queens while the ones in Manhattan are, highlights exactly the fundamental disparity in access that needs to be addressed by our city,” he said.
Shawn Slevin, the founder of water safety and education nonprofit Swim Strong, called the city an “aquatic desert,” adding that maintenance work was intermittent even when their organization was offering swim lessons at the aquatic center before it closed its doors.
The need for pool access is only growing, she said, as climate change renders swimming and water safety skills increasingly vital. Climate disasters and the city’s rising shorelines, she added, have already brought about many water-related tragedies and will only continue to do so — often along immigrant communities and communities of color.
“I’m frustrated. I’m angry because New York City is a city of water, and yet we do not have the infrastructure,” Slevin said. “How can you expect that we, as a city of water, can prepare our citizens for what exists today — never mind what’s coming tomorrow?”
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