Volume 75, Number 13 | August 17 - 23, 2005

Villager photo by Jennifer Boudrow

City Council candidate Michael Beys and Baruch Houses kids cheer the idea of restoring the old Baruch Houses bathhouse as a community center.

Bathhouse just needs scrub, says candidate

By Ellen Keohane

With their little arms raised high in the air, about 50 children stood on the steps of the abandoned Baruch Houses bathhouse in the Lower East Side on Monday afternoon in the rain, shouting chants and holding homemade poster board signs in support of Michael Beys, a candidate for City Council in District 2.

“When do we want a recreation center!” shouted Beys. “Now!” replied the children in unison. “How are we going to do it?” said Beys. “Together!” they yelled.

Beys, smiling for photos next to the kids, said he wants to make the renovation of the Baruch bathhouse a “top priority” if he is elected. The building, which he called “dilapidated,” has been ignored for too long, and a community center would be a great use of the underutilized space, he said.

The bathhouse, first built in 1901, housed an outdoor pool as well as separate showers and tubs for men and women. After falling into disrepair, the bathhouse was shut down in 1975 during a time of fiscal crisis, said a Parks Department spokesperson. The building’s windows are now encased in cinderblocks and its facade is covered with graffiti.

The Parks Department, which owns the property, does not have the funds to renovate and maintain the bathhouse. It would be a tremendous undertaking and would most likely cost far more than tens of millions of dollars — although no formal assessment has ever been done — a Parks spokesperson said. However, if there is public interest and sufficient funding is made available, it would be something they would definitely consider. For now, Parks is currently constructing new turf playing fields at Baruch Playground.

Beys, a former federal prosecutor, is one of seven candidates running for Councilmember Margarita Lopez’s seat. The other candidates include Reverend Joan Brightharp, Darren Bloch, Brian Kavanagh, Gur Tsabar and Rosie Mendez, who is Lopez’s former chief of staff. Claudia Flanagan, who was knocked off the Democratic ballot, is reportedly considering running on another party line.

“[The bathhouse] belongs to our community and we want it back,” said Roberto Napoleon, Baruch Houses Tenants Association president and head of the Puerto Rican Council. Many of the children present for the press event were from the Puerto Rican Council Day Care Center. The tenants association and the council have given Beys their support, Napoleon said.

Baruch Houses is Manhattan’s largest housing development with 2,389 apartments, according to the New York City Housing Authority. While there is a community center in a Baruch Houses building located at 605 F.D.R. Drive, it can only legally hold less than 30 children, Napoleon said.

“Margarita Lopez hasn’t done anything for Baruch Houses in the eight years she’s been in office,” said former Democratic District Leader Roberto Caballero, who is also a founder of the Committee to Defeat Margarita Lopez. While Lopez earmarked funds for Washington Square Park and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on W. 13th St., both of which are not in her district, she has neglected Baruch Houses, he charged.

There was no request for the renovation of the bathhouse by anyone in the community, including Community Board 3 or the Housing Authority, said Connie Ress, a Lopez spokesperson. As early as 1998 or 1999, Lopez, acting on her own, contacted the Parks Department several times to request that the Baruch Houses’ bathhouse be landmarked and renovated, but was told that the bathhouse was not a department priority, Ress said.

This year, Lopez advocated for $450,000 for the construction of handball courts that had previously been torn down at Baruch Houses, Ress said. With Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s support, the funds have been allocated within the 2006 city budget, according to a July 18, 2005, letter from Lopez to Community Board 3, which was also CC’ed to the Baruch Houses Tenants Association.
“[If elected] I will work very hard to secure funding for this project,” said Beys, during the press event. “You can’t put a price on keeping kids off the streets.”

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