The Central Park Conservancy has a plan to replace the pool and ice rinks at the northeast corner of Central Park, but thousands of New Yorkers are not happy about it.
Earlier this month, a group calling itself Preserve Lasker Coalition started a change.org petition asking the Conservancy to rethink its plan, preserve the Lasker Pool and both of the ice rinks. As of Feb.17, the petition had more than 3,800 signatures, with a goal of 5,000.
The Lasker pool and ice rinks are slated to undergo demolition and replacement in the spring of 2021 as part of a larger project to improve and transform a roughly 20-acre section of the park. That project, described in these pages in September 2019, is estimated to take three years to complete at a cost of $150 million. The Conservancy is contributing $100 million and the city’s Parks Dept. has allocated $50 million for the project.
Bad for Hockey
While the petitioners recognize the need to renovate the 54-year-old facility, they have issues with the proposed design.
A primary objection is the impact on hockey players. According to the petition, Lasker hockey programs include more than 50 youth teams serving over 1,000 kids, and six adult divisions with another 500 to 600 players. “The only two other locations for competitive ice hockey in Manhattan – Chelsea Piers and Riverbank State Park – are currently operating at or near full capacity with no plans to expand once Lasker closes” the petition states. “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...”
As one signer put it, “Lasker is home to Ice Hockey in Harlem and other groups that help make hockey accessible to low income families and neighborhoods. If you take it away, Hockey will only be available for the wealthy. And that shouldn't be the case.”
The petition also says the new pool will be 26 percent smaller than the current pool and therefore able to handle fewer swimmers. According to the conservancy, it will in fact be somewhat larger – more than 75 percent the size of the existing pool – bigger than an Olympic-size pool and one of the largest public pools in the city, able to accommodate 50-meter lap swimming.
The children’s wading pool will be replaced by a splash pad, expanding water play opportunities for children. New York, like many municipalities, has moved away from wading pools due to increasing health and safety concerns and requirements.
Time for an Upgrade
According to the Conservancy, the redesign is necessary because the existing facility does not comply with current code and operational requirements for support space and amenities (toilets, showers, staff space, etc.), nor with federal accessibility standards or local sustainability standards required of new public buildings. In addition, the rink infrastructure is failing, the refrigerant it uses is banned and the pool leaks chronically.
“The project is designed to improve the quality of life for the millions of park users who will benefit from this major redevelopment in the park’s north end by repairing the damaged historic landscape and restoring the disrupted stream course between the North Woods and the Harlem Meer, which has caused flooding of the current facility ever since it was constructed in the 1960s,” said Conservancy spokesperson Stephanie Baez. "The new facility has been designed to provide the largest pool/rink possible on the site while complying with today’s codes...Unlike the existing facility, the new facility will be open and accessible to the local community year-round.”