Residents react to proposed pool deck construction in Sunset Park

March 27, 2014 Heather Chin
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A new “pool deck” is slated to be built at the Sunset Park Recreation Center, but the proposed construction—a collaboration between students from the Parsons New School for Design and the city Parks Department—has met with mixed reviews from area residents, many of whom only heard about the project for the first time on Wednesday, March 19, at a Community Board 7 meeting where members were expected to vote on whether to support the effort and its design.

Ultimately, the board voted 18-to-10, with six abstentions (which count as nay votes) to support the project, but residents still have many concerns and questions about the design, the short timetable and the lack of community input. CB 7’s board stated that they will continue to keep tabs on the project’s progress.

The project design is of two changing area structures, one for men and one for women, to be constructed out of wood in order to “minimize the impact on the building,” said a Parsons student at the meeting. The structures will have a “low profile, flat roof, and will bring out the lighter hues in the brickwork through softer materials.”

“The idea is good, the [increased] light looks good, but it looks like it doesn’t belong [in the landmarked recreation center],” said board member Marcela Mitaynes while examining the giant posterboard images of the draft design. “Can we design it to blend in? A lot of people and developers want to get in our community and we have to band together and say that we should have a say.”

However, residents may not actually have a say, at least not in the way they typically do when public works projects are planned and funded with city money. This pool deck project is being funded privately through a $100,000 grant from the Durst Organization.

The project is part of a five-year initiative in which second-year Parsons architecture students help the Parks Department to “improve” public spaces and make them more sustainable. Sustainable design is a key part of the city’s PlaNYC goals. The initiative’s past projects have included a Splash House at the Highbridge Park Pool and Rec Center in Washington Heights.

According to Alfred Zollinger, director of the design workshop at Parsons’ School of Constructed Environments, the construction schedule is determined by students’ academic schedule. Intended completion of the Sunset Park Rec Center pool deck is estimated for Labor Day, 2014.

Benefits of building a separate pool deck—designed to be permanent, but without making changes to the Rec Center’s landmarked structure—will reportedly come via year-round indoor educational and recreational programming, said Parks Department Director of Architecture Kevin Quinn at the meeting. Currently, programming is suspended over the summer months while pool amenities use the space.

Maria Roca, CB 7 board member and founder of the community group Friends of Sunset Park, challenged that assertion, stating that “the Rec Center is not a full-use center because of extensive need for repairs,” not because of a lack of space.

“There is no air conditioning, so how will they bring programming there in the summer,” Roca asked.

However, the pool deck plan is not without its supporters.

It seems foolish to [turn it down] when it seems to allow for more access to the pool and programming,” said board member Robert Carroll.

In response to community concerns, Quinn noted that Parsons students “will continue to refine constructability details,” but that “all outdoor pools [in the city] were built in the 1930s [and] we’re using it for more things, so it makes sense to move onto the deck.”

The project will next require approval from the city Landmarks Commission.

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