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Work begins on pool, ice rink at Flushing Meadows

It was 11 a.m. on a Thursday, and the students of Public School 150 in Long Island City were not in class. Instead, they stood in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, dressed in bathing suits, shivering from an occasional biting breeze, anxious to put their clothes back on.

There was no swimming pool and certainly no beach. The swimwear-clad pupils were there because they were offered a deal: if they came to the park to sing at a ground-breaking ceremony for an Olympic-size pool, they would be the first to swim in it. Unabashedly, they accepted.

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, among others, attended the event last Thursday, looking on while pile drivers drove piles into the ground. When the $32.9 million project is complete in 2002, there will be a 10-lane Olympic-size pool as deep in some spots as 16 feet, as well as an ice rink conforming to National Hockey League regulations. Both facilities will be housed in a 69,000-square-foot building.

“When Flushing Meadows Corona Park opened, Robert Moses delivered a speech he called ‘Beauty for Ashes,’” Stern said. “Today, we trade in not ash, but asphalt. We dig up a parking lot and plant paradise. I look forward to enjoying it with you in 2002.”

What is now called Flushing Meadows Corona Park was an ash heap where Brooklyn’s garbage was taken and burned, before it was transformed under the stewardship of Moses.

This geography requires some delicate engineering — mainly, 700 steel piles have to be drilled into the ground. These piles, Stern said, will help protect the facility from “mud waves” that could otherwise make the foundation tear away from the marshland.

Funded by the mayor’s office, the Queens borough president and the City Council, the project is to be completed in 2002. Stern said the site will be used for recreation as well as for competition, with room for more than 500 spectators. The dozen or so students from PS 150 who attended the ceremony, braving the raw weather, did so to be the first to swim in the pool.

Toward the end, right before the pile drivers slammed steel into the ground, the students rose, walked to the stage and sang the Beach Boy’s song, “Surfing USA.”

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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