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Parks Dept Compromise Over Women-Only Swim Time Angers All Sides

By Gwynne Hogan | September 30, 2016 10:07am
 The Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center offers inexpensive swimming.
The Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center offers inexpensive swimming.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

UPDATE: Following this story's publication the Parks Department added ninety more minutes to Adult Lap Swim for the fall schedule. 

WILLIAMSBURG — A Parks Department compromise over the women-only swim time at the Metropolitan Recreation Center that cut pool access for both sides has infuriated swimmers on either side of the lane.

Starting on Oct. 9 when the Metropolitan Recreation Center's pool (261 Bedford Ave.) reopens following renovations, general lap swimmers will have 15 minutes less time in the pool per week than they did last fall, around 40 hours a week, while the all-women swimmers, will have half as much time as they used to enjoy, down to two hours during the week and two hours on the weekend.

 Swimmers came together for a meeting Wednesday night where they tried to find common ground.
Swimmers came together for a meeting Wednesday night where they tried to find common ground.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

"When we heard that there was going to be fewer hours devoted to ladies' swim, our understanding was [that] there was going to be more hours for adult lap swim. Now they've made it bad for everyone instead of having some sort of trade off," said Catherine Fukushima, who's become a de facto spokeswoman for the so-called "Secular Swimmers" since the issues at the Metropolitan Pool flooded national headlines this spring.

Women who use the single sex hours, many of them Hasidic Jews who adhere to strict rules of modesty that prohibit them from bathing with men, are just as frustrated with the Parks Department policy. They'd launched a petition demanding the restoration of the six weekday hours of women-only swim for the sake of those who want to maintain the "right morals."

"The pool's so [important] to everybody, mentally, socially. It's a beautiful place," said Esther Weiss, 51, who said swimming helps her deal with sciatica.

The hours that were taken away from ladies' swim have gone to other "coeducational hours" like water aerobics and a "Swim for Life" class according to the new fall schedule and Parks Department Spokesman Sam Biederman. 

“Lap time or no lap time, the point is the people of all gender expressions can swim in the pool at that time," Biederman said. "There are more hours that allow for that and at the same time we’re meeting the needs of a population that has been there for decades.”

The Parks Department announced they would cut down the controversial women's swim hours back in July, following a review of the policy City's Human Rights Commission. The two city agencies eventually agreed that city pools could have an exception to the human rights law, which prohibits discrimination by gender, and provide women-only swim time.

In the same July announcement they said they'd reduce women's swim to "minimize disruption to other patrons."

Swimmers convened Wednesday night at the Swinging 60's Senior Center along with Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Assemblyman Dov Hikind to find common ground.

"We don't care how you do it we want the hours expanded for everybody," said Lentol, "We want to start out with expanded hours."

Both sides agreed that if the pool were to open at 6 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m. and have more hours on weekends, it could alleviate some of the pressure on swimmers who are trying to cram in lap time.

The community board, backed by Hikind and Lentol, are calling for a moratorium on that reduction until they come up with some kind of compromise.

Membership at the Metropolitan Pool has gone down since 2001, according to the Parks Department. Membership peaked in 2007 at 9,397. When the McCarren Pool opened nearby in 2012, membership sank to 4,702, though it climbed back up to 5,563 by this year.