How the Floating Pool Lady came to be

The floating pool provides recreation for thousands every summer.

From graduate thesis to a Hunts Point park

As soon as school lets out in June, the most popular place in Hunts Point will be Barretto Point Park.

Residents from all over the Bronx have flocked to the big swimming pool there since it arrived in 2008. But few know the origins of the seven-lane, 25-meter-long pool called the Floating Pool Lady.

It took decades for the pool to evolve from idea to reality, said the woman who gave birth to it. In a talk titled “Reinventing the NYC Waterfront: An Insider’s Journey,” Ann Buttenwieser told the pool’s story at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House on March 19.

She ticked off the obstacles the pool faced, from funding to a hurricane.

And then the real work began.

New York City’s bureaucracy had to be convinced that the idea of resting a pool on a barge and floating the barge in the East River made sense. It was an idea not envisioned in its regulations, so each permit-granting agency had to be persuaded that it could work.

Back in the 19th century, the city operated 15 pools in the East and Hudson Rivers, Buttenwieser, a self-proclaimed “historian of New York City,” discovered in her research.

In 1999, she founded the Neptune Foundation with the intention of creating a version of those pools for the 21st century.

“History is very important for the children that use this facility to know–that these once existed in the 19th century here in New York,” she said.
Buttenwieser introduced a video account of the architects and contactor who designed and built the Floating Pool Lady, a feat that “had never been done before,” she said.

Construction of the barge began at the Bollinger ship yard in Amelia, Louisiana, 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, in 2005. Then Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf of Mexico.

“Effects of Katrina on our facilities, on our work force, were extremely tough in the middle of this conversion project,” says Boysie Bollinger in the video. “We lost a tremendous number of our employees, many of whom didn’t return.”

Raising $5 million to build the barge and pool and deliver them was a drawn-out process.

“Any project that you’re doing for the public sector funded through a variety of charities and private donors takes a while to put together,” observes architect Jonathan Kirschenfeld in the video. “The money-raising was one issue.”

When the assembly of the barge was complete and it finally arrived in New York, it nearly sank under the weight of red tape. Neither insurance companies nor governmental agencies thought the idea of a pool on a floating barge was plausible.

“A whole bunch of regulatory agency approvals were necessary, construction issues were way behind schedule and we still didn’t have a site, as to where we’re going to put the pool,” said Kirschenfeld.

The Neptune Foundation was even fined $20,000 by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Finally, in 2007, the Empire State Development Corporation granted permission to install the pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

It arrived in Hunts Point in 2008 after a lobbying campaign by community organizations and public officials who pointed out that there were no public outdoor pools in the area.

The moral of the journey that began for her with her graduate thesis, Buttenweiser said, is “Follow your passion.”

“My baby took 27 years and here it is,” she said.

Reported by Lorraine Ryshin

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