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Totten opens visitor center

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The new visitors center, located along the park's waterfront edge and away from the entrance, was renovated with $450,000 allocated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $850,000 in funding from Borough President Helen Marshall. It now boasts a new roof and exterior paving, replica Civil War-era doors, space inside for museum displays and an entranceway and comfort stations compliant with stipulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act.The building started its life as a military storage facility in the early 1900s and as a shoe repair facility in the 1940s, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told a group of fourth-graders from PS 209."Guess what this building used to be used for? Storage for things that blow up!" he said, prompting a chorus of "Cool!" from the children."Since this was originally the ordinance building, there was an archaeologist on site [during renovations] in case they found any ordinance," Marshall said.She added that a natural gas-powered tram will be available to circle Fort Totten Park starting in the spring.Fort Totten was acquired as part of the Federal Lands to Parks Program and was opened to the public as a park by Bloomberg on June 13, 2005, making it Queens's first major new park in decades.The historic battery was renovated and opened to the public in June 2005. In the summer of 2007, Fort Totten Pool, formerly operated by the YMCA, was opened to the public. The visitors center is another major element in the conversion of the park, a former Civil War fortress and Army base, into a beautiful 50-acre park.State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who served in the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Totten, said he did not expect to see the visitors center happen in his lifetime."When I was stationed here through the years, I and my colleagues would sneak through the fence to walk on the battlements," he said.The current museum display, which will be expanded in the future, includes two Civil War replica uniforms, replica artillery and maps of the fort. The Parks Department's Urban Park Rangers, the city's outdoor specialists, will run their Fort Totten education programs from the visitors center.City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said that Jack Fein, a fort historian who was instrumental in the movement to turn the building into a museum or visitors center, could not attend the ceremony.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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