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Reopen Astoria Diving Pool Instead of Turning It Into Event Space: Petition

 The Parks Department plans to turn the old diving pool into an amphitheater for public performances.
The Parks Department plans to turn the old diving pool into an amphitheater for public performances.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

DITMARS — Kathleen Springer spent her childhood summers learning to swim — and to dive — at the swimming pools in Astoria Park.

While the park's main pool where she spent her youth is still open and bustling with swimmers today, the diving pool next to it — once a neighborhood staple and the site of three Olympic swimming and diving trials — has been shuttered and unused for decades.

The city plans to pave over the empty diving pool and turn it into a performance space, a move Springer calls "criminal." That's why she's petitioning to see it brought back to its original use: swimming and diving.

"To ruin that, that would just be a crime," said Springer, a real estate broker who's lived in Astoria since she was a toddler.

She had a stack of petitions Monday with hundreds of signatures she said were from neighbors in support of her cause, who would rather see the site filled back up with water than turned into a plaza.

"Everybody wants [it as a] pool," she said. "They don't feel feel good about it being bricked up and destroyed."

The plan to convert the pool into a public performance venue has been in the works since at least 2012, and was approved by both Community Board 1 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (since the pool is a city landmark) in 2013, according to the Parks Department.

But the project has been delayed over the years, and after bids for the work came in over budget, officials said they had to scale back some of the original plans, the Astoria Post reported earlier this year.

Plans to renovate the seating and concession areas were dropped, and the current $5 million project will fill in the diving pool and build a plaza on top of it, according to the Parks Department. The city will look to procure a contractor for that work starting this fall.

Springer believes the pool would be better used for diving, and she's hoping to draw attention to her campaign in light of the city's announcement last week that it would invest $30 million over the next several years into improvements at Astoria Park.

"It should be restored," she said. "It's part of our history."

Built under the direction of Robert Moses, Astoria Park's main pool and its diving pool opened in 1936, and that same year, on its opening day, it served as the site of the Olympic trials for the U.S. swimming and diving teams, according to the Parks Department.

Olympic trials were held at the pools again in 1952 and 1964, the latter of which Springer recalls watching as a young child with her mother, she says.

"I swam every summer in that pool and used the diving facility up until the 1980s," she says, adding that she thinks children in the neighborhood today should have the same opportunities to learn how to dive.

"For the kids who can't afford their own private summer homes or pools in the backyard," she said.

The Parks Department closed the diving pool at Astoria Park more than 20 years ago for safety reasons, according to a spokeswoman.

All but a few of the city's public diving pools have been similarly shuttered over the years, and many have been filled in and turned into other amenities, like spray showers and volleyball courts, the spokeswoman said.

In 2010, the Parks Department looked into the possibility of reopening the diving pool but found that doing so would require a substantial amount of work, including new plumbing, drains, filtration system and structural fixes for both the pool and the 32-foot dive tower.

But Springer still hopes officials will change their plans for the site.

"Why destroy a historical pool that has been here since 1936?" she asked.