Brooklyn, Your New Floating Swimming Pool Is Almost Ready Now
Jonathan Kirschenfeld, the architect of the pool in a barge, was helping with construction details on Thursday. Public opening is set for next week.
By ETHAN WILENSKY-LANFORD
June 30, 2007
The barge was a buzz of activity. Crews were halfway done with a half-dozen projects. Siding was being put on locker rooms. A checkerboard of paving tiles was being laid out on the deck. Metal panels still had to be hung from the railings. In the center of it all, a large aquamarine pool glimmered, tantalizing everybody on board.
“I want to jump in that pool right now,” said Tommy Farrell, 39, a construction worker from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, whose face was red and sweaty in Thursday’s midmorning heat.
He won’t have to wait much longer. On Wednesday, Independence Day, if all goes well, a dream born over a quarter century ago, a floating pool built on a barge, will finally be ready for bathers and bobbing off the Brooklyn waterfront in Brooklyn Heights. Eventually, the site will be part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The pool is 25 meters long, or just over 82 feet, is 4 feet deep and has 7 lanes. Admission will be limited to 175 and will be free.
The Floating Pool Lady, as it is called, has not been easy or cheap to put together.
The idea for the barge was conceived in the early 1980s by Ann L. Buttenwieser, a former parks department official, who was attracted to the notion of floating pools by studying the history of New York. She found that there were once dozens of bathhouses on the water, used more for sanitation than for recreation.
Ms. Buttenwieser started a nonprofit group, the Neptune Foundation, to finance her pool project. So far, it has spent $4 million in donations and Ms. Buttenwieser has spent $1 million in borrowed money to pay for the pool.
Ms. Buttenwieser said that when she approached the parks commissioner, Henry Stern, in 1999 or 2000, he told her he was interested in helping her but could not afford the pool’s upkeep. The city did give her an old garbage barge, but it sank. The mayor of Hoboken, N.J., said his city wanted a pool, but he left office. So Ms. Buttenwieser and her team looked south, and in 2004 bought a decommissioned cargo barge in Louisiana called the New Orleans. In a bit of good luck, Hurricane Katrina did not damage the 85-by-300-foot vessel, but it did delay the first stages of conversion.
The barge with its pool-shaped hole arrived in Brooklyn last fall, where governmental hurdles were added to the remaining construction challenges and even threatened to sink the project. A big question, Ms. Buttenwieser said, was whether the barge was a building or a ship.
“There are multiple layers of jurisdiction here, because nobody knows what it is,” she said. “Is it a structure, or is it a vessel? Does the Coast Guard need to be involved?”
Ms. Buttenwieser said it took seven licenses and agreements to get the project approved. And yes, the Floating Pool Lady may be the first swimming pool that required a sign-off from the Coast Guard.
Once the barge was docked off Brooklyn Heights, a new round of work began. The earlier work done in Louisiana was rough shipbuilding; now that had to be made to work with precision blueprints for the pool.
“When you take something built in a shipyard and you add an architect on top of that,” said Steven Spivak, a construction supervisor, “what you get is a rigid world landing on a slightly irregular world.”
He and the pool’s architect, Jonathan Kirschenfeld, had just discovered one problem: 400 short aluminum cylinders, needed to install metal panels evenly around the edge of the barge, were a fraction of an inch too long.
That was one reason why getting the Floating Pool Lady ready for its debut was going to be a close call.
Despite the remaining hard work, some of the few people who have seen the pool up close are enthusiastic about the project. One of the construction workers, Alfred G. Baker, from Canarsie, Brooklyn, was thrilled that he could take his three children on a New York outing that would not cost him anything.
“Even my little daughter’s going to be excited about it,” he said. “When it’s time to go, she’s going to say, ‘Oh, Daddy, no! Can I spend a little more time?’ “
A shuttle will be available to take people to the pool, with stops at Cadman Plaza and Borough Hall and in Brooklyn Heights. And shiny gangways will reach from shore to barge. There are locker rooms. The pathways to the pool from the locker rooms pass large translucent seascape murals. Next comes a spray-pad, where children can get wet without swimming, and a sitting area for adults. Lifeguards will watch over the swimmers, and in the background is the Manhattan skyline, a view all can behold.