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Budget cuts threaten to shutter pool at Fort Totten

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City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said he was shocked to find out recently that the city Parks Department is planning to close down Fort Totten’s swimming pool as part of its 2011 fiscal year budget.

The agency said during a budgetary hearing last week that the fort’s pool would be one of four in the city to be shuttered. The councilman had been told several weeks ago that funding was in place for the site.

“I met with Parks weeks ago and there was no indication this was happening,” Halloran said. “This completely blindsided me. It’s the only open-air pool in eastern Queens.”

The pool had undergone upgrades, including resealing and landscaping, during the past two fiscal budget cycles. But it could close down as early as July 1 when the Parks Department’s new fiscal year begins, Halloran said.

“We just spent half a million dollars refurbishing this thing, so this is ludicrous,” he said. “It’s disingenuous they are doing this at the 11th hour. It was rehabilitated and allotted a whole lot of money.”

In a statement, Parks announced its plan to close the pool as well as shorten the swimming season for its other city pools by two weeks´╗┐. The agency said the move would save the city $1.4 million.

“Our decision was based on our judgment of several factors, including attendance figures, proximity to other pools, access to public transit and the location of the pools relative to residential communities,” the statement read.

The agency told Halloran that the pool was not heavily used, but he said the site always seems to draw a crowd on hot summer days. The councilman said he has asked Parks for specific numbers at the pool, but he has n ot been given that information.

The pool had originally been built as part of Fort Totten, which is along the Cross Island Parkway in Bay Terrace.

It is primarily used by northeast Queens swimmers, but draws residents from two Council districts, five state Assembly districts and two state Senate districts.

Halloran is involved in discussions with Parks and Borough President Helen Marshall’s office on the matter, but he said he is upset because he could have arranged for separate funding through discretionary spending had he known the pool faced closure.

“They didn’t tell me about it,” he said of the Parks Department. “It’s hard to lobby for something when you’re not told about it.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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