Flushing Meadows work on ice rink, pool stopped

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For hockey players, the goal is to finally have a regulation rink in Queens. For swimmers, it is an Olympic-sized, state-of-the-art pool, complete with high diving boards.

For the administration of the Queens Museum of Art, the vision is a larger and architecturally stunning facility to attract many more visitors.

But for now, all three dreams have been put on hold.

Due to a lack of finances, the city has halted construction on the new 70,000-square-foot ice rink and swimming pool facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

With the current hockey rink housed in the New York City Building, which is also used by the Queens Museum of Art, the project delay has thrown a wrench into the plans of the museum.

The Queens Museum of Art needs the hockey rink, which is being used by skaters, to close before it begins its renovation. But the hockey rink will remain in operation until its replacement is built facing the Fountain of the Planets in the middle of the park.

“We’re all in this together,” said Tom Finkelpearl, director of the Queens Museum. “There is not a dispute. Here it is simply a matter of budget issues.”

Construction on the underground portion of the rink and pool complex has already been completed, with the pile driving finished and foundation poured. But work on the above-ground portion of the two-story structure has been postponed.

About $33 million has been appropriated for the project. But bids on the above-ground portion all came in at about $20 million more than expected, and no construction company has been chosen to complete the work.

The city Parks Department is hoping to raise private funds to finish the project.

Once it is completed, the facility will contain a regulation-size hockey rink and an indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool. Queens has no regulation ice hockey rink and the Astoria pool is the only Olympic-sized pool in the borough.

The complex will have a glass atrium entrance, a mezzanine, classrooms, a training room and a lounge.

Squeezed by the lack of funding, the Parks Department has set no date to finish the complex, and as a result the Queens Museum of Art has been unable to pinpoint a time at which to start its own.

After a design competition, the Queens Museum chose Eric Owen Moss as architect for the project.

Moss’s winning design completely changes the look of the museum. The lobby would be replaced by a glass facade, stretching from the front to the back of the building. Seating would be built in the lobby, providing a view of the Unisphere, which sits directly across from the museum.

About 75 percent of the current Queens Museum of Art building would remain intact.

In the summer, a coalition of Queens preservationists protested plans to change the look of the building, the last structure from the 1939 World’s Fair to remain standing.

Moss’s design is preliminary, however, and Finkelpearl said his own plan would be finalized in about a year.

The Queens Museum has received $22.5 million of public funding for the project, and the administration hopes to raise millions of dollars in private funding in order to complete the plan.

Finkelpearl said the museum is currently short of exhibition space as well as storage and classrooms. By taking over the other half of the building now occupied by the rink, the museum would be able to welcome fare more visitors, who currently number between 60,000 and 70,000 people a year, Finkelpearl said.

“Everybody is geared toward this museum expanding,” Finkelpearl said. “It’s not happening tomorrow. But I’m here for the long haul. I want to be the proud director on opening day, even if it is in 10 or 15 years.”

Mike Mitchell, commissioner of the metropolitan area’s Catholic High School Hockey League and coach at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, said he was disappointed to hear the pool and rink were put on hold.

The rink in the New York City Building is smaller than regulation. While the league uses it for practices, the borough’s five hockey teams must travel to Brooklyn, Westchester or New Jersey to play their varsity games.

“We were looking forward to that new rink,” Mitchell said. “That would have been one of the best things to happen to the league.”

As hockey has grown more popular in the city, high school teams have found it harder and harder to find rinks for games, Mitchell said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Mitchell said. “You just hope for the best, that they can come up with the money.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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