Clemente Pool to be repaired

The Roberto Clemente State Park swimming pool at Morris Heights will not be open this summer because of renovations. Photo by Victor Chu

This summer, Morris Heights will bake. The Roberto Clemente State Park swimming pool won’t open in 2009. According to the State Office of Parks, the pool will undergo renovations.

Thousands of children frequent the Olympic-sized pool. According to State Office of Parks spokesman Dan Keefe, the pool hasn’t undergone a significant renovation since it was built in 1973. The State Office of Parks secured $20 million of Croton Filtration Plant mitigation funds to fix up Roberto Clemente in 2004. Leon Johnson is a member of Community Board 5 and president of the residential River Park Towers, which overlook Roberto Clemente and the Harlem River.

The State Office of Parks recently announced $5 million in cutbacks. According to Keefe, the Roberto Clemente pool renovation was scheduled prior to the budget crisis. The state will enjoy operational savings – no lifeguards to pay, no poolside concession. Of the city’s five state parks, only Roberto Clemente will be affected.

“Why didn’t they begin work after the pool closed last September?” Johnson asked. “Why are they cutting back at Roberto Clemente?”

According to Keefe, the pool renovation will last 12 months; the state had no choice but to close the pool for a summer season. Work has begun on the locker room phase of the renovation. The state will also refurbish the pool, build a new spray-play area and carve a new wading pool.

Some 5,500 people live in River Park Towers, Johnson said. This summer, children from the neighborhood will trek to the swimming pool at Crotona Park. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has eliminated a shuttle bus to the Barretto Point Park floating pool, off Hunts Point.

“We need the pool,” Johnson said. “We’re surrounded by concrete. It gets hot over here.”

Johnson thinks the State Office of Parks could have opened the pool for part of the summer if it had begun work earlier. It could have kept the pool open during the spray-play area and wading pool renovation, for instance.

Roberto Clemente staffers have failed to update the neighborhood, Johnson said. According to Keefe, the pool and spray-play area work will take place simultaneously. The entire complex will shut down for safety reasons. The pool will reopen for the 2010 swim season, Keefe said.

Johnson is excited about the new spray-play area and wading pool. But he wants to know how the state plans to spend what’s left of the $200 million. Roberto Clemente staffers have not been able to answer the question, Johnson said. Roberto Clemente is a 25-acre waterfront park on the Harlem River named for the first Latino-American inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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