Island Groups Scramble as Sportspark Remains Closed

Written by Briana Warsing. Posted in Volume 37, Issue 9 - January 21, 2017

At the end of last summer, the Island’s community pool and indoor sports facility, Sportspark, closed for much-needed repairs, including the installation of a new roof, a new boiler, and resurfacing of the pool. The facility was supposed to reopen around Thanksgiving. At the end of November, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (known as RIOC) announced that the renovations would take until the beginning of the new year. Now, with an opening date that keeps moving further into the future – and an additional closure looming on the horizon, this time for the locker rooms – Islanders and Island groups who use the facility are getting worried.

Swimmer Maureen Leong says, “The closure of the Sportspark has cost me quite a bit of time and money.” To keep up her practice, Leong bought a membership at the 92nd Street YMCA. Before the Second Avenue Subway line opened on January 1, she says it took her an hour just to get there. Although her travel time is now half that, she counters, “It still takes much more incentive to travel to get to a gym instead of swinging by one in my own backyard.”

The Roosevelt Island Marlins

The Roosevelt Island Marlins Learn-to-Swim program, which had 125 kids enrolled before Sportspark’s closure, has been on hold since the fall. According to the Marlins board, this has greatly impacted the financial health of the team, as the Learn-to-Swim program contributed two-thirds to their income. Meanwhile, the swim club is spending double for pool and storage rentals. (They are currently practicing at St. Bart’s Church in Midtown, a pool their coach says is not the best pool. “But for me, as the coach, it has the most important element necessary for a swimmer – water.”)

Together, the diminished revenue and increased costs result in a $5,000 monthly deficit. So far, the team has been able to offset this loss, but they do not have the savings to cover this added expense for much longer. They are concerned that they will have to reduce pool rental hours, at the expense of the team’s performance, or increase membership fees, at the expense of many of the members’ ability to remain on the team.

The team is governed by the United States Swimming Association and Metropolitan Swimming (a nonprofit competitive swimming organization) and has approximately 200 members, primarily from low- and middle-income families. Prior to its closure, they were renting the Sportspark pool for over 17 hours per week, split between seven days a week, to provide many different programs, including Learn-to-Swim.

The Marlins’ competitive team, which currently has about 50 swimmers, has had swimmers compete at the Eastern Zone and National competitions. Their league ranking is 25 out of 115 teams, and nine Marlins swimmers are ranked in the top 25 in the league. The cost to join the team is half of what you’d pay in Astoria, and a third of what Manhattan teams charge.

The Palladino Academy of Soccer, which placed third in last year’s Chelsea Piers League, has been forced to cancel practices.
The Palladino Academy of Soccer, which placed third in last year’s Chelsea Piers League, has been forced to cancel practices.
Photo by Catherine Palladino

Palladino Academy of Soccer

For the Palladino Academy of Soccer players, who compete in the Chelsea Piers Indoor League, the continued closure of Sportpark has resulted in a chaotic practice schedule and frustrated parents. Practices were supposed to start in the renovated Sportpark on January 12, and take place on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons. The Academy’s games are on Sundays at Chelsea Piers. So far this season, the group has only been able to hold one practice outside; two others are scheduled this week at Octagon field. This Sunday will mark the fifth game out of ten this season.

Catherine Palladino, Executive Director, says she’s frustrated not only by the continued closure, but also the poor communication with RIOC. “I paid for our permit for the Sportspark facilities on December 16. I have paid for the permit and the insurance for all of our scheduled practice days totalling over $3,000. I was given no notification that there was going to be a delay in the opening. I heard through other organizations that their permits were delayed so I reached out and did not get a confirmation until today, the day the permit was scheduled to begin.”

Last year the team won third place in their indoor league. “We went down to Chelsea Piers last year and we dominated [in the Chelsea Piers League],” says head coach John Palladino. “We started out a little rough, but once we got used to it, we did really well. The team that won (we got third) told us that we were the best team that they played. We’re no slouches.”

This year, Catherine Palladino says, the kids aren’t as able to prepare for games with the limited practice they are getting and that parents are frustrated. “It is so difficult to change schedules last minute.” The Academy has lost players because of this. It is difficult to ask parents to set aside time and money and then cancel practices.

Island Services Committee

According to Susy Del Campo Perea of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s Island Services Committee, “The project is completed.” She says that although the work is done, inspections still need to be made, specifically regarding the removal of asbestos, installation of the new boiler, and the plumbing for the new boiler. Perea acknowledges that RIOC has issued permits for community groups, but says that RIOC has never given her a specific opening date. She does say, however, that RIOC employees have been using their offices in Sportspark throughout this process, and were only banned from the facility when it was closed for asbestos removal.

Even after the facility does reopen, it may not stay that way for long. Perea says Sportspark will be closed again in the summer or the end of the summer to renovate the locker rooms.

Sportspark instructor, Ryan Sherrill of Delta Force Swimming, sees the problem as a city-wide issue. “All I really have to say is this is the problem with unions in New York City.They have the right to put work off so projects can take longer, and they benefit. But the independent workers who actually want to do their jobs, no matter the conditions, have to wait and suffer. It’s not an Island problem. It’s a city-wide problem,” he says.

Tags: Briana Warsing Island Life Marlins Swim Team Recreation Palladino Academy of Soccer Sportspark

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