Saturday, October 24, 2009

For those new here a little reprise of recent Victoria Pool history.


Making waves
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "maintenance" as "the upkeep of property or equipment."
Sunday, August 24, 2003


Sadly, when it comes to New York State's handling of Spa State Park, and Victoria Pool in particular, the definition of "neglect" - "to give little attention or respect to; to leave undone or unattended to especially through carelessness" - seems more appropriate.

When Victoria Pool was constructed in 1934, no expense was spared. State-of-the-art equipment was installed and the pool was a benchmark for technology, efficiency and elegance. A battery of four large sand filters re-circulated the pool's 260,000 gallons of water every 5 1/4 hours.

Glistening fieldstone lay around the then-tiled pool, and lion-head fountains poured forth crystal clear water into awaiting basins below. Manicured shrubbery lined the grassy borders, and brilliant flowers edged the concrete runways.

Surrounded by its arched promenades adjoining majestic grand rooms, Victoria Pool rightly earned the title of "most beautiful pool in America." There was no questioning why it became a haven for celebrities like Al Jolson, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Swanson and Fay Wray, just to name a few. In short, it was befitting Saratoga Springs.

But that was then. Today, things look a little different. Luckily, there are still 260,000 gallons of water circulating through four filters. Actually, make that three. According to recently retired plant utilities engineer Jim Gilchrist, one filter stopped working in the late '90s and was never repaired. Sadder still, they are the filters that were installed in 1934.

The lion-head fountains haven't worked in so long that pool goers like Louise Goldstein, who has literally been a regular since she was born in 1940, can't even remember when the fountains stopped spouting.

The masonry surrounding the pool is crumbling to the point where the word "hazard" is bantered about regularly; the slate roof is in need of repair; the limestone steps are beginning to look like do-it-yourself kits; dirt and grime cover the grand columns; random shrubbery is ugly at best and half-alive at worst (but it does help hide the crumbing infrastructure) And, until a couple weeks ago, trees were growing out of the tops of the surrounding building's chimneys. (Note the word 'sapling' was not used in that sentence.)

Add to that a clock face without hands, seriously peeling paint on the light poles and a ceiling in the locker room that might come down and knock someone unconscious at any minute, and it makes you wonder, if that's the stuff we can see, what else is wrong with this place?

Just last week, a 1934 state-of-the-art chlorination pipe burst, forcing both Peerless Pool and Victoria Pool to close.

Earlier this year, Niagara Mohawk red-tagged (shut off due to extreme hazard) the "gas room" at the Victoria Pool complex when alerted by a park plumber. According to Gilchrist, who was in charge of the park's pools for 22 years, park management had known about the leak for months, but failed to act.

"We have a meter that was probably put in 1934, and the piping is four-inch welded pipe which was deteriorating right before your eyes," Gilchrist said. "You could go in and hit it and knock off chunks. It got to a point where you could actually smell the gas every time you walked into the room."

NiMo subsequently shut it down, according to Gilchrist. "Hypothetically, someone could have been killed," he said.

That convinced Goldstein, along with fellow pool lover Andrew Jennings, to form the "Save the Victoria Pool Society," a group dedicated to the pool's preservation.

The organization is trying to persuade state officials to put real money behind the restoration and to put pressure on park management to "do what they're supposed to do - keep our park beautiful," says Goldstein. So far, they've met with representatives from Senator Joe Bruno's office, State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco and local officials.

"We are afraid it is going to be lost forever," Goldstein said. "Victoria Pool is a national treasure. There seems to be a total lack of concern by park management toward the physical plant and cosmetic structure. Nothing has been done for years. I have gone over (to the administration offices) in good faith every year and was told 'We are going to fix it' or 'We are going to do a study.' Being a naive and trusting person, I kept waiting, and things just got worse," she said.

Last summer, park administrators told employees overtime was no longer allowed. That meant any extra time needed for repairs or even regular maintenance was forbidden.

"Due to overtime restrictions, maintenance at Victoria Pool has been virtually nil," Gilchrist said. "In years past, the pool was backwashed weekly. Last year, it went the entire year without a backwash. You should have seen it. It looked like a chocolate milkshake coming out of there. Management made the decision there would be no overtime - for anything."

Such decisions leave many wondering if management (on any level) is capable of operating what the Deputy Commissioner of Upstate Operations and Resource Management Group Dominic J. Jacangelo called "the flagship of the park system" during a recent meeting with the "Save the Victoria Pool Society."

The meeting also included Regional Director Donald Kasprzak, (title) Assistant Regional Director Cheryl Gold and Facilities Manager Connie Hyatt. It should be noted that during the same meeting, Jacangelo said that the pool's showers were "disgusting" and that he wouldn't use them himself.

"I have taken management over there myself and shown them (the damage)," Gilchrist said. "Their response was to 'Go to engineering.' It's like talking to a wall. If you look at the brickwork over the gymnasium where the balconies are, it started spaulding like that five or six years ago. (Spaulding is when water gets behind the brickwork and pushes out the masonry.) That's when it's really getting bad. And that's because no maintenance was done on a leaky roof. They (the management) all know it. We tell them it's a hazard because the public likes to lay on the lawn there and sunbathe - and if one of those stones hits them - (the stones are) pretty heavy."

The continued inaction by the park to repair can also be tied directly to the park system's desire to streamline through attrition. Whereas the park used to have eight full-time plumbers, they now have one. You don't need any fingers to count the qualified trades people for the park. What few people they do have are spread too thin and, according to Gilchrist, those in charge "just don't care."

"You have to point a finger at management," Gilchrist said. "All of the people in maintenance were aware of what was going on. But there is nothing (they) can do. So management is totally at fault. Take those dogwood bushes below the French door areas. I requested two years ago to pull those out of there so we could paint that area up and make it look nice again. They (park management) said we couldn't do that because they didn't have a plan as to what type of bushes they were putting in there. (The dogwood bushes) look like hell and attract the small beesand management told me not to touch them. I had the boys from McGregor down there who would have pulled them right out, but I was denied."

The dogwood bushes are still there. But, aAccording to Wendy Gibson, spokesperson for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, immediate renovation plans for the pool include "electrical upgrades and the first phase of the rehabilitation of the Victorian Pool masonry, including replacing limestone steps; slate and metal roof repairs; reconstruction and reappointing of brickwork; partial roof replacement and repairs to the ceiling.

"During the coming off-season, we will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital repairs and in-house major maintenance items at the pool. Pool patrons should see a much improved facility next summer. These capital projects and a number of aesthetic-type projects being completed in-house will be under way immediately after the season (early fall) and will be completed prior to the opening of the pool's 2004 season," Gibson said.

So, who are we to believe - a park service that has avoided maintenance issues for years, or park employees and patrons who have not only witnessed the degradation of the pool and surrounding buildings, but asked repeatedly to have something done?

Officials are vague about how much money is earmarked out of the regional park system fund for Spa State Park. Recent reports suggest the "rehabilitation" plans came in at a bid of "slightly more than $173,000."

When you consider that the much newer Peerless Pool Complex was recently renovated at a cost of approximately $2 million, it makes you wonder what can really be accomplished for that amount.

Granted, Peerless is a much larger complex than Victoria but, by Gibson's own acknowledgment, it differs by "the historic nature of the Victoria complex and the issues related to the surrounding historic structures."

For a $173,000 budget, we should probably get used to the dogwood bushes.

To learn more about the "Save the Victoria Pool Society," e-mail or write to: Save the Victoria Pool Society, P.O. Box 65, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Victory for Victoria Pool society
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Advocates for Victoria Pool are pleased with the nearly $647,000 federal grant coming to Saratoga Spa State Park as part of the state's $1.5 million renovation of historic pool over the next two years.
Thursday, April 22, 2004


Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Rep. John Sweeney announced the grant Tuesday. Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, represents Saratoga County.

Bernadette Castro, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, announced the renovation in December in response to complaints that the pool was not being kept up.

'We're very pleased because we didn't know it was coming, and we didn't know it was part of the $1.5 million,' Louise Goldstein, co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, said Wednesday.

The $646,801 grant is from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Goldstein said she's seen a lot of construction going on at the pool.

'We see wonderful things,' she said. 'A lot is happening. The workers are there. It's really a construction site now. It's a dream come true, and we feel that time will no longer stand still at the Victoria Pool as it has for a long, long time.'

The first phase of construction, which includes electrical upgrades, masonry, roof repairs and enhanced landscape design, should be complete by June.

Victoria Pool, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened in 1934 as the first heated pool in the country, is scheduled to open for the season in mid-June.

'The Victoria Pool is such an important part of the summer culture here in our city,' Mayor Michael Lenz said. 'We are very much looking forward to seeing this local treasure restored.'

By June 2005, phase two will be completed with the new pool deck area, the landscaping with new plants and more lawn area and the exterior rehabilitation of the buildings, Castro has said.

But just because things are looking bright for the 211-gallon pool and its environs does not mean the state has heard the last of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, Goldstein said.

'We see our mission as the whole park,' she said. 'Like Sleeping Beauty, it's been neglected. The pool will hopefully be the most beautiful in America, but we hope the park will be the most beautiful park.'

URL: stories/11365673.prt

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is all old and meaningless. Besides not a single park staff member or elected official mentioned in this article is still in office. But welcome back, you haven't posted anything dumb in so long I was afraid maybe you had come to your senses.