A $150 million plan to renovate the north end of Central Park is sparking new controversy over planned changes to the popular Lasker ice rinks and pool.
In September, the Central Park Conservancy announced an expansive restoration of the area, including a brand new public pool and rink to replace the Lasker Pool and skating rinks, which were built in 1966 around the Harlem Meer near 110th Street.
"Lasker’s aging structure — long plagued by systemic problems — is beyond repair," the conservancy said on its website.
The conservancy's plans call for "installing a seasonal ice rink for skating and hockey" and "constructing a boardwalk in the Meer that converts to a skating ribbon in winter, accessed from an open-air pavilion on the shoreline, expanding nature-based recreation." The new swimming options "will be a larger than Olympic-size pool, and a new outdoor spray pad." Still, the currently sprawling pool will be replaced by one 25 percent smaller.
Thousands of people have signed an online petition that says the renovated rink and pool space will be too small for the many people who want to use the facilities: "Hockey leagues playing there now include more than 50 youth teams serving over 1,000 kids and 6 adult divisions of another 500-600 players. The youth travel hockey program currently hosts games at Lasker for teams from communities across NYC and the Tri-State Area," the petition reads, noting that the ice rinks are also the home to "the North Stars hockey program for players with special needs and the only all-female hockey league in New York."
"Removing the ice hockey location at Lasker in Central Park slashes ice hockey and ice skating as affordable recreational amenities for present and future generations to enjoy in New York City’s most well-known park," the petition continues.
Steven Ginzberg, who coaches the North Stars team, is worried the smaller rink will affect accessibility. "Some of the programs that this is going to take ice time away from are very important programs like"Ice Hockey in Harlem" who has to go out and fund-raise and the Central Park North Stars," he said. "It's going to be a big problem...(this) may end the programs or we'll get less ice (time)."
The petition also asked to preserve the wading pool for small children, which is being replaced by the proposed spray pad facility.
The petitioners are hopeful their requests will be addressed by the city's Public Design Commission, which plans to vote on the project at its March 16th meeting.
The Lasker rinks have been besieged by maintenance issues that have led to closures for entire seasons -- issues that are exacerbated by the outdated refrigerant chemicals used at the facility.
The conservancy said the new renovation also will resolve critical design errors that made the area prone to flooding -- namely, diverting a nearby stream into a culvert -- as well as restoring the views across the park landscape that had been interrupted by the Lasker facilities.
"For more than 60 years, Lasker Rink and Pool has acted as a physical and visual barrier in the north end. The building severed the Ravine landscape and Loch watercourse from the Harlem Meer. Water running from the Loch into the Meer was redirected through a culvert (a tunnel that carries water around Lasker beneath the ground), which has resulted in regular flooding throughout the years," the conservancy said on its website.
A spokesperson for the Central Park Conservancy told the New York Post that “The failing, flood-prone facility needs to be completely replaced as it is beyond repair. The new facility is designed to provide the largest possible pool and rink given the constraints of the site, technical requirements and ecological concerns," Stephanie Baez said. "Moreover, unlike the existing facility, the new facility will be open and accessible year-round, which will greatly improve the quality of life for residents that live near the Park’s north end."
About 220,000 people use the rinks or the pool every year, according to the New York Times.
The former Parks Commissioner said in a tweet the renovations are a much-needed chance to improve the park:
Meanwhile, construction is set to begin in spring 2021 -- the same year the Trump Organization, which has held the concession to run the skating rink for 32 years, ends its contract.
With Autumn Harris / WNYC