Swimming pools finally open — well, some of them


Temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees earlier this week, and many looked for a place to swim as the hot days of July have finally arrived.

That search for refreshing, chlorinated waters won’t be as easy as it used to be, however, at least when it comes to the city’s parks. Only two public pools will open this summer in the Bronx, and neither of them are in Van Cortlandt Park.

Instead, the lucky swimming spots will be in Crotona and Haffen parks. Yet for anyone not looking to make a journey across the borough, there are still a few options available in the neighborhood.

Riverdale Neighborhood House on Mosholu Avenue opened its pool for the first time this week, with plans to keep it open until Sept. 7. However, the pool is only open for members, and will follow a limited schedule to allow for social distancing.

Marcia Santoni, the neighborhood houses’ executive director, says the decision to open came after multiple discussions with the community.

“The pool defines the summer experience for so many,” she said. “We knew if we could find a way to open safely, we would.”

Up to 30 people will be allowed in the water at any given time, while an additional 30 can lay out on the pool deck. Face masks must be worn at all times — except in the water — and deck chairs will be spaced six feet apart.

Riverdale Neighborhood House also is partnering with Physique Swimming, a program that provides swimming instruction and certified lifeguards to make the pool function effectively as the summer wears on.

“Families and children deserve to have a safe place to be outdoors after months inside,” Santoni said. “It’s summer. People should enjoy themselves.”

Those who might prefer to stay out of the sun and find a swimming pool indoors will find that search will be even harder. Although indoor pools were originally part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Phase IV economic reopening plans, indoor pools at community centers won’t be allowed to reopen. This includes gyms as well.

Because of this, the popular 25-yard pool at The Riverdale Y on Arlington Avenue remains closed until further notice.

The surge of COVID-19 cases around the country gave Cuomo cold feet when it came to any sustained time indoors around other people, including indoor pools. That’s something The Y has to live with, said chief executive Deann Forman, even though the facility had been planning to welcome swimmers for some time.

“When they allow it, we’re very confident that we’ll be able to reopen,” Forman said.

Of course, reopening won’t come without restrictions. Pool hours and total capacity will be limited to stop any potential overcrowding. A reservation system also will be in place for swimmers to select timeslots to use the pool.

All of these measures are in place, Forman said, so swimmers can find the time to get in the water and feel safe and comfortable while doing so.

Swimmers also will be asked to answer a series of questions and submit to brief health screenings.

But the pool isn’t just for recreational activities. The Y offers group and private swim lessons and summer youth programs for kids. Forman hopes The Y can restart those programs as soon as the pool reopens. But not without a caveat.

Rachel Cutler, The Y’s general manager, has some concerns about how all that will work, especially with social distancing.

“The swim lessons are hard,” Cutler said. “We don’t want groups of kids on top of each other, and even private lesson will be tricky.”

One idea Cutler and Forman are considering is offering lessons for children who already know how to swim and simply want to improve their technique. This way students can maintain distance from their instructors if need be.

Private lessons might prove to be easier. If a child doesn’t know how to swim, Cutler is considering allowing parents to be involved in the lessons, providing extra help while keeping close proximity within a household.

It won’t be an easy process but Forman is positive The Y can work with its members to find some sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

“Part of reopening in this environment means a partnership and understanding with our members,” Forman said. The restrictions will be firm at first. But if members comply and the new rules work to guarantee safety, Forman says they can ease up over time when it becomes appropriate.

Until then, Cutler says she and Forman are paying close attention to the needs of the community. Once they receive the good word from Cuomo, Cutler is confident they can make it happen. “We’re ready whenever the city is.”