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Lack of Free Public Pools Leaves Central Queens Residents Sweltering

By  Nigel Chiwaya and Smriti Rao | July 9, 2012 9:23pm 

Queens Pools Map
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Elizabeth Lekas

QUEENS — Mary Arevalo sat in the hot sun last week while her 5-year-old daughter Yasmina ran through the sprinklers at Russell Sage playground in Forest Hills.

Decked out in a large hat, sun dress and sunglasses, she was doing her best to endure the sweltering heat.

Arevalo, 39, wanted to go swimming, but that would have involved heading to Manhattan or taking the Long Island Rail Road to the beach. 

As for finding a swimming pool closer to home?

"I don't know where any pools nearby are," said Arevalo, a teacher and Forest Hills resident of 10 years.

Arevalo's situation is not uncommon among residents of central Queens, where a dearth of free public pools has left the area a proverbial desert in the summertime.

Residents in Central Queens don't have facilities like the Mullaly park pool in the Bronx.
Residents in Central Queens don't have facilities like the Mullaly park pool in the Bronx.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

There are nine public pools in the borough, compared to nine in the Bronx, 18 in Brooklyn, 19 in Manhattan and eight in Staten Island. Two of them are in Bayside, with one each in neighborhoods like Astoria, Woodside, Jamaica and Douglaston.

However, there are zero public pools in Forest Hills, Rego Park, Woodhaven, Middle Village, Maspeth, Kew Gardens or Ridgewood.

For central Queens residents, the lack of pools means they must either travel long distances to a free pool or pay to use a private pool.  

There is a third class of pool — indoor public pools, which require a $150 annual membership fee. The closest such pool, the Flushing Meadows Aquatic Center, is located 3 miles away from Forest Hills' main subway station at 71st Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

Many families end up paying in order to stay close to the neighborhood. Ira Greenbay, a chef in the area, said that his family joined the Central Queens Y in Forest Hills in order to use the pool.

"That's pretty much the only reason we joined," Greenbay, 55, said as his two children played in the 88-degree weather at Russell Sage. 

Representatives from the Parks Department said there are currently no plans to build a pool in central Queens.

Frank Gulluscio, the district manager of Community Board 6, told DNAinfo.com New York that residents have never voiced the need for a public pool and noted that there is no space for one anyway.

"Where would you put it?" he asked. "Every space of land is developed."

Gulluscio argued that many residents find the area's private pools to be enough, but parents in the area refute that notion.

"The private pools aren't sufficient because not everyone has a private pool," said Greenbay, who has lived in Forest Hills for eight years. He noted that some buildings with pools only allow residents and their guests to swim, not the general public.

Sarah Frank, a mother and member of a Forest Hills parents email group, knows where the public pools are, but said she can't afford them.

"I had heard of the Birchwood Towers pool, but couldn't spend the 15 [dollars] to cool off — that adds up quickly!" Frank, 29, wrote in an email. "This summer I wanted to take the kids, but $30-$40 a day is out of our single teacher's salary range."

Things aren't quite as bad in Jackson Heights, where residents can swim in Avery Fisher pool. But residents said the pool, located on the border of Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst at 99th Street and 32nd Avenue, is too crowded, too dirty and too far away.

Instead, many residents use the pool at the Garden School, a private school on 79th Street and Northern Boulevard. But even that costs money.

"It costs 20 bucks per swim. Who can afford that in this recession?" said Tania Castillo, 36, as her 4-year-old son Evan played in the sprinklers at Travers Park.

Kelly Arau, a mother of two from Jackson Heights, has taken her children to the Astoria pool, but she isn't a fan of the lines and overcrowding.

"Astoria Pool is so crowded," said Arau, 35, "On a hot day, it's a two-hour wait in the heat of the day to get in. 

Like in Forest Hills, Jackson Heights won't be getting a public pool anytime soon. Dudley Stewart, president of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, echoed the thought that the lack of room to build one is the problem.

"There's simply no space anywhere," he said.