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June 30, 2007 / GO Brooklyn / Perspective / Checkin’ in with...

Making a splash

The Brooklyn Paper

Cannonball! The city’s outdoor pools are finally open, giving relief to the millions of us who don’t have country houses, don’t like air conditioning and, frankly, think beaches are nothing but a sandtrap

Brownstone Brooklyn’s four pools are an invaluable treasure for kids of all ages (there’s even early morning and evening lap swimming hours for adults). But, alas, all is not perfect in pooland. The quirky hours (11 am–3 pm and 4–7 pm every day), the weird rules (no baseball caps?), and even the lack of diving boards are a source of great confusion. So to properly dive right into the season, Editor Gersh Kuntzman checked in with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe — and rode him like a surfboard through a tsunami.

Q: Why do the pools open so late in the year? After all, some days in May and June are as hot as Atlanta.

A: The fact is, the audience really isn’t there before the end of the school year. And pools have to be operated on a seven-day schedule because of filtering and maintenance. Plus, many of our lifeguards are in high school, so they’re not ready.

Q: When I go to one of your wonderful Olympic-sized pools, usually half the pool is roped off. What’s the deal?

A: A few years ago, the state raised the number of lifeguards that we need. In the old days, we could have 600 guards to take care of everything. Now we need 1,200. And to fully open the Olympic-sized pools requires 25 to 30 lifeguards per pool, taking into account shifts and lunches. We do try to get the pools fully open when we get peak demand.

Q: Why is there a one-hour gap at the hottest part of the day?

A: We run the pools in two sessions for two reasons. One, it allows us to bring in a whole new group of people, some of whom are outside waiting on line. It’s only fair that the people inside the pool should leave after swimming for a few hours. Plus, we can’t bring in more people than the state allows. Plus, it maximizes efficiency to have the lifeguards all take lunch at the same time.

Q: Those lifeguards are sometimes the bane of my existence. Why are they so stringent about the rules?

A: It’s very simple: Remember whirlpooling? In the 1990s, we had social problems and crimes being committed against kids at our pools, so we developed protocols. The rules may seem arcane — like no colored hats or t-shirts — but they are vital to maintaining safety and order. Look, these are pools. There are a lot of people playing and enjoying themselves and there are lots of hormones flowing, so we need to make sure everyone can have fun in a safe environment.

Q: But come on, your lifeguards won’t even let me ride my 5-year-old on my back!

A: Well, the rule about back-riding is important. Someone could try to jump off a kid’s back and land on his head in the shallow end of the pool and have a spinal injury. Our most important job is to balance fun and safety. That’s one of the reasons we’ve expanded the learn-to-swim program to all of the outdoor pools this year. We’re teaching more than 10,000 kids to swim for free.

Q: You must be doing something right because the pools are very popular. Quantify it for me.

A: On a hot day, we’ll have 50,000 people in the pools.

Q: That’s a lot of people to keep safe.

A: It’s true. Before Robert Moses created the pools, 400 to 500 people would drown every year in rivers and creeks because there were no safe swimming pools. As soon as they opened in 1936, accidental drownings plummeted to about a dozen a year.

Q: In some ways, the pools are better now. They’re free, for one thing.

A: People don’t realize that in the 1930s, adults had to pay 25 cents and kids had to pay a dime. The present value of that is $4. That’s a lot. So here’s one city service that has actually become cheaper.

Everyone in the pools

At last, after weeks of heat, the city’s outdoor pools finally opened on Friday, bestowing blissful relief to burnt brownstoners. All pools are open daily from 11 am–3 pm and from 4 pm–7 pm. Here’s our report card:

PoolLocationCommentSpecial features?Grade
Commodore BarryNassau Street and North Elliot Place in WallaboutIt’s a mini-pool — and often quite busy.None.B−
D&D PoolDouglass and Degraw streets, between Third Avenue and Nevins Street in Boerum HillThis mini-sized, yet rarely crowded, pool is the hidden gem of the system.Nice, fenced-in kiddie pool.A
Red HookBay and Henry streets in Red HookToo many rules ruin everyone’s great time.Olympic-sized pool.B−
Sunset ParkSeventh Avenue between 41st and 44th streets in Sunset ParkThe best of the outdoor Olympic pools, thanks to a relaxed staff.Great kiddie pool area.A
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