When former math teacher Mike D’Alleva first saw the Stuyvesant pool he was wearing a hard hat and being escorted by construction workers. His first sight of the pool was an incomplete one: “We walked up those steps, but they weren’t steps, they were just concrete. There were no walls, there were no locker rooms [...] no office, that stuff hadn’t been built yet,” he said. “I stood at the edge of the pool right at the shallow end and it was just a gray hole [… ] all I saw were those girders [the tiled columns next to the pool] and that hole in the ground. I was stunned, and I said ‘this is going to be a really great pool’.”
One of the first things incoming freshmen learn about Stuyvesant is that it is one of few schools in the city with its very own pool. Throughout their years at Stuyvesant, students feel the pool’s presence, navigating around the space it takes up on the first and second floors and smelling the chlorine wafting through the hallways. Yet despite its great presence, the swimming requirement, and life guarding elective classes, most students rarely interact with the pool during their years at Stuyvesant, and fewer students realize the immense role that the pool played in the architecture of our building.
Stuyvesant’s current building was constructed in 1992 due to the small size and decrepit state of Stuyvesant’s former home at 345 East 15th Street. The new building was intended to be state of the art, right along the edge of the Hudson River, with a pool designed by James DeSimone, then captain of the swim team, which would provide a permanent practice facility. Battery Park City agreed to contribute money to the pool so long as it would be open to the public when school was not in session. The contribution allowed the expensive project to proceed in a public school.
As the plans for the new building were revealed, environmental groups began to protest the unforeseen implications of the building on the surrounding ecosystem. An underground river was discovered beneath the construction site, which is home to “little one inch fish that only spawn right here,” according to machinist Kerneth Levingion. Fearing that the plans as they stood would mean death for the species, the groups threatened to sue.
Eager to avoid a costly lawsuit, Stuyvesant had the plans entirely redone. The new plans raised the northernmost section of the building about six feet above water using columns. This structural change led to the creation of the small set of stairs leading up to the pool. However, just before construction on the building was to begin, the environmental groups dropped the lawsuit. Still the school went through with the modified plan.
A common misconception about Stuyvesant’s pool is that it was built with the intention of including a swimming requirement for graduation. This is false, according to D’Alleva, who said that when the pool was first completed in May 1993 the school’s physical education teachers were not even certified as life guards. The first people to use the pool were faculty members, but they were only permitted to do this after D’Alleva petitioned Principal Teitel and agreed to act as a lifeguard. The addition of former Assistant Principal Physical Education and lifeguard Martha Singer to the staff enabled teachers to swim on weekday mornings, occasionally sharing the pool with the practicing swim teams.
Singer was the first person to approach Principal Teitel about instituting a swimming requirement. D’Alleva understands the logic, explaining that in schools such as Stuyvesant, “Not only do they have the facility to teach people how to swim, but some people say they have the duty to teach them how to swim.” Once the administration decided to institute a swimming requirement, they had P.E. teachers become certified by the Red Cross.
Another misconception about the pool is that it is Olympic sized. According to regulations, an Olympic swimming pool has a length of 50 meters and a width of 25 meters. The Stuyvesant pool, on the other hand, has a length of 22.86 meters, slightly less than half that of an Olympic pool. Still, the size is beyond adequate given the space allotted and the number of students using it.
In 1999 the pool was dedicated to James DeSimone, the former coach of the swim team, who had died of a heart attack early that September. As coach, DeSimone had lead the boys swim team to multiple championship victories, and the team was devastated by the loss. After his death PSAL officials began giving sportsmanship awards in his name, the first going to Stuyvesant’s Mike Gontar.
Before the pool was built, it was a common tradition, to the point of being noted in multiple articles in local news sources and referenced in the 1995 film “Hackers,” for seniors to tell freshmen about, or even sell them tickets to, the “sixth floor pool.” The school at the time had only five stories. Instead, Stuyvesant students can now only misdirect freshmen to the “tenth floor pool.”
The rest of the history of the Stuyvesant pool is a history of repair. It is not surprising, considering the size, usage, and age of the pool, that it has been shut down to be repaired many times in the past. In 2008 the pool closed for two months because of a broken acoustics baffle on the ceiling. The price of the scaffolding, which had to be built all the way from the bottom of the drained pool, and the workers, along with the time it took to fix, convinced Teitel to check all the baffles at once to avoid a future breakage.
This year, unlike most, the Stuyvesant pool will not remain functional throughout the summer. Instead, due to concerns about water consumption, the pool is going to be drained as a conservation effort. But even though the pool is to be drained, it is hard to imagine the first floor lobby without that persistent chlorine smell.